The Impact of Morality, Religion, and Law Upon Advertising
Religion and other value systems are certainly crucial in defining and sanctioning sex and decency. Moslem countries tend to frown upon all kinds of salacious displays and even indirect sexual references. Similar Christian standards operate in such countries as Ireland, South Africa, Mexico, and the Philippines. Other cultures may be considered rather tolerant in sexual matters (for example, French commercials on public television readily show live semi-nude models) but may prohibit any show of pubic hair (Japan), the promotion of contraceptives (France), or the lewd use of women (Scandinavia and the Netherlands) in ...view middle of the document...
Similar provisions have been enacted in India, Peru, and Portugal to protect women against indecent or derogatory representations.
Still, the matter of constitutional freedom of speech as applied to advertising has raised serious questions concerning control of sex and decency in advertising. Swedish courts, for example, have not sustained some initiatives of the Consumer Ombudsman in this matter; and the Swedish Parliament stated in 1977 that no law prohibiting ads discriminating against women could be introduced without amending the Freedom of the Press Act. U.S. courts keep struggling with the definition of obscenity in the context of the First Amendment.
The activism of religious and feminist groups clearly affects the stiffening of standards. Several Moslem countries (such as Iran and Saudi Arabia) are strongly resisting the invasion of Western advertising themes and approaches. Besides, a vocal minority of women are increasingly objecting to the deprecation of their sex (in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden). They oppose ads that belittle women, insult their intelligence, depict them in an offending manner, imply sex inequalities, or display violence against them. Some people, including men, oppose commercials about personal-hygiene products (in Canada and the United States).
Media control is crucial whenever a strong clearance system exists (in Mexico and Taiwan), particularly where television and radio networks are government controlled or when general censorship prevails (in Indonesia and Saudi Arabia). In general, TV and radio commercials are more restricted than print and direct-mail ads, which are more selective in their audience-reaching; private networks are often more tolerant than public ones in such countries as Italy. In any case, much depends on the execution of the advertisements as well as on their placement and timing. An ad in Playboy or a commercial shown at midnight will be received differently from those appearing in general-circulation magazines or in prime time. Restraint, grace, and wit may also make a difference.
Besides, the greater number and variety of publications, commercial broadcasting stations, and direct-mail advertisements are eliminating much of the rationing that allowed the media--particularly television and radio--to refuse ads for various controversial products and services simply because there was not enough time and space to accommodate all advertisers. As Colin Shaw, Director of the U.K. Broadcasting Standards Council, remarked (1989): "People buy newspapers largely to confirm their prejudices. I the whole, most people look at television and are constantly having their prejudices affronted." international editions of newspapers and magazines as well as the recent growth of satellite broadcasting are diffusing new types of advertisements about different products to countries unaccustomed to them.
Advertising self-regulation has played some role in curbing...