One of the strands of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) five year strategy, More Impact Online, is ‘Independence’. Here they set out what that means as well as the steps they’ve taken to ensure they are independent in advertising regulation.
Being independent means carrying out work impartially, free from undue influence or vested interests, in pursuit of their ambition to make every UK ad a responsible ad.
Although funded by the industry they regulate, that funding is ‘arms-length’. And regulatory outcomes – ASA rulings, regulatory projects and the tens of thousands of ads get changed or withdrawn each year – are testament to how they operate without fear or favour.
The ASA is committed to evidence-based regulation and open-minded to changes that could strengthen their work and bolster protections for people and business.
A big part of demonstrating independence is being transparent and accountable. The ASA welcome views that differ from theirs, they engage constructively with and listen carefully to well-argued and well-evidenced criticism and, where necessary, make changes to improve independence.
That’s why in 2017 they’ve invited Dame Janet Paraskeva to conduct an independent audit of performance and published response to her recommendations, which ASA welcomed and responded to. They also published Commitment to Good Regulation, which sets out six commitments modelled on the Government’s Regulators’ Code.
Ensuring they remain accountable is an ongoing process and led them this year to scrutinise governance arrangements further. In particular, the internal review responded to the occasional criticism that they’re not independent enough; that the ASA system is “hermetically sealed”.
Following the review, they’re confident that existing governance arrangements demonstrate clearly ASA independence and accountability. But the process did provide them with the opportunity to do even more. As a result, they’ve taken the following steps:
- Ensuring that the ASA Chair role is publicly advertised and an independent person participates on the appointment panel
- Formalising the appointment process for the Independent Reviewer, including having an independent person on the appointment panel and introducing a five-year limit, with the option of an extension if appropriate
- Reviewing and updating our internal Guidance on Managing Conflicts of Interest and Lobbying – strengthening confidentiality protocols in relation to staff moving to companies we regulate
- Writing annually to the Chairs of parliamentary and assembly committees relevant to our work, to highlight key rulings, regulatory projects and policy updates and to invite them to hold us to account.
The ASA will continue to keep the tgeir governance processes under review. That includes some upcoming work looking at communicating more clearly how they select experts in complex investigations – helping to receive objective, impartial advice – and how they inform rather than determine our decision-making.
And they will, of course, continue to welcome views from and enjoy discussions with stakeholders, even when challenge.
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