Private universities in Malaysia have been called out by the Advertising Standards Advisory (ASA) Malaysia for using print and outdoor advertisements "with clear intent to misrepresent". This comes after the appearance of "several egregious advertisements" earlier this year, prior to the university intake, ASA said.
ASA chairman Azizul Kallahan said it has seen several instances of advertisements placed by private universities this year that it has concluded are "unsubstantiated claims". It is important for students and parents not to be misled by "unscrupulous and irresponsible higher education institutions" in relying on these claims, he added.
We are of the view that the use of phrases or words such as ‘No.1’, ‘Most’, or ‘Best’, ‘in advertising are instances of a superlative that require substantiation.
Failing to do so would mean running foul of Clause 4.2.2 of the Malaysian Code of Advertising Practice which states that any claim should "…not create a false impression concerning any quality possessed by the product…," Azizul explained. He added that some of these misleading advertisements are being carried by the leading print and outdoor media, "making a mockery of" those media's own terms and conditions for ad space bookings that require advertisers to comply with the standards set in the Malaysian Code of Advertising Practice. He said:
Media owners have the responsibility to protect consumers’ interest by ensuring advertisers avoid making unethical claims.
“The ASA would like to remind advertisers and the media that they have an obligation to adhere not merely to the letter of the law, but also to the Malaysian Code of Advertising Practice which calls for all advertisements to be legal, decent, honest and truthful,” Azizul added.
He explained that there is also a requirement to ensure that all advertisements do not contravene Section 18 of the Trade Description Act 2011 and Section 73 of the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996. These provisions govern and regulate advertisements to ensure that they are not misleading, deceptive or false, amongst others.
The ASA said it will continue to work together with the Enforcement Division of the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs to take action against recalcitrant advertisers engaging in these "fraudulent trade practices". ASA Malaysia was established in 1977 as an independent body to provide scrutiny of the self-regulating advertising industry, to ensure that all advertisements are prepared with a sense of responsibility to the consumer.
Its main tasks are to promote and enforce ethical standards in advertisements, to investigate complaints from the industry and consumers, and to ensure that the self-regulatory system operates in the public interest.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Kadri Mohamed Taib, president of the Malaysian Advertisers Association (MAA), said rogue advertisers that set out to mislead the public do so "to the detriment of the advertising industry" as a whole. "Such behaviour unfairly compromises the credibility of the majority of companies and practitioners that painstakingly ensure their claims are objectively verified," he said.
Kadri added that no advertisement should bring into disrepute or reduce public confidence in advertising as a service. “The interests of the consumer are at the heart of the advertising business. Advertisers should not exploit consumer trust through unsubstantiated claims," he said.
MAA is one of the members of ASA, which also comprises the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of Malaysia, Malaysian Newspaper Publishers Association, Media Specialists Association, and The Outdoor Advertising Association of Malaysia,