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Fri, Sep 22, 2017

In the pits of advertising

Political advertising ought to be stopped. It’s the only really dishonest kind of advertising that’s left. It’s totally dishonest.
– Advertising doyen David Ogilvy

IN March last year, an MCA politician with his entourage turned up to pay their last respects to a departed friend. Seated at the same table, the politician said: “We are all worried about the hudud laws which will be implemented by PAS. They will start chopping people’s hands and stoning people to death.”

Tempering amusement with disbelief, the response was: “It cannot be done. Any change must have the consent of two-thirds of Parliament and the party’s allies will certainly not agree to that.” But he went on to say how others in the coalition will be coerced into going along.

It would have been certainly discourteous and unbecoming to debate this at a solemn occasion like a wake and hence, I kept silent.

After the politician left, I quipped to the others in humour more than despondence: “Anyway, it will be good for the people to see politicians who have stolen the people’s money walking around without hands!”

Fast forward to this week: As a keen observer of advertising and marketing besides journalism and a connoisseur of tastefully-done knocking ads, I couldn’t help but pay serious attention and read every word of the political advertisements of the MCA.

I must confess I have only read the ones in the English language although I am told they also appear in Chinese and Tamil newspapers.

Advertisements are the lifeline of the newspaper industry and for publishers like theSun which gets no revenue from newspaper sales, every sen counts.

But like all other publications, we too are bound by the laws of the country and in almost all instances, by the Malaysian Code of Advertising which is promulgated and enforced by Advertising Standards Authority of Malaysia (Asam).

There’s nothing wrong or unethical about political advertising and the sloganeering which come with it despite the misgivings of Mr Ogilvy. A well-written advertisement espousing achievements will always be a delight to read and the message to be better understood. Even clever knocking ads make their point.

An example is the picture of long queues at the employment office with the words “Labour is not working” which was put out by the Tory party under Margaret Thatcher.

This campaign in Malaysia has now descended to the pits. Fear-mongering has taken precedence over ethical and truthful advertising bordering on the offensive and religious and racial sensitivities.

The code states that “no advertisement should contain statements or suggestions which may offend the religious, political, sentimental or racial susceptibilities of any community”.

The code does not, however, seek to restrict the free expression of opinion in paid-for advertising space, whether by those engaged in commerce or by political parties, foreign governments, religious or charitable bodies, or other organisations or individuals, provided the identity of such advertisers is made clear, and the advertisements themselves are clearly distinguished from any editorial matter in conjunction with which they may appear.

More importantly, the preamble to the code reads: “All advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.”

A case in point is the advertisement which asks: “Why the DAP is silent?” The copy reads: “Looking at Kelantan’s track record, Johor could suffer from the rise in HIV, drug abuse, rape and contaminated cases.” What honesty and truthfulness are we talking about?

The issue is not whether PAS and DAP will turn Johor into another Kelantan, but the audacity to make such wild claims with no researched scientific evidence to support. Besides, it will be impossible to forecast such results and it is sheer impudence to attribute them to reports from two newspapers and a news portal.

If this was merely created to put fear into the people, it has failed miserably. On the contrary, people are showing odium and contempt for such a feeble attempt to pull wool over their eyes.

Asam’s lack of response to a blatant breach of the code is disheartening. The irony is that its chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, was information minister and is now helming another political outfit called Ikatan.

The outburst in cyberspace reflects the anger of ordinary Malaysians who view such audacious campaigns as insulting their intelligence.

On a similar note, will the same newspapers publish an advertisement paid for by well-minded citizens which reads: “Can you trust a party which is led by a crook?”

This question can only be answered by none other than owners of publishing houses who have accepted and consented to publish those questionable and code-breaking advertisements.