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APCON, Guinness go to War over Breach of Advertising Laws

Seni Adetu

Last week, a media war broke out between Guinness Nigeria plc and the Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria, APCON with both parties trading word on the pages of newspapers and on the internet accusing each other of bias and victimization.

This is sequel to the lifting of sanctions imposed on Guinness Nigeria Plc by APCON for allegedly violating advertising rules and code of practice, and this does not seem to go down well with one of Nigeria’s leading beverage drink manufactures, brewers of Guinness Stout beer, from launching media war on the advertising apex regulatory body, APCON, accusing it of bias, vindictiveness and discrimination.. Guinness, in a statement recently, accused APCON of misleading the public of the facts on the matter, claiming that it had indeed withdrawn the said adverts before APCON sanctioned it.

However, APCON at the weekend addressed a press conference to clarify and justify its position on the matter.  APCON’s Registrar, Alhaji Bello Kankarofi, maintained that ASP as a statutory committee of APCON was set up by law to ensure compliance with advertising standards and advertising laws of Nigeria and usually briefs the council of APCON of its findings and recommendations.

‘APCON council basically takes its decision on the basis of such information and recommendation as was done in the case of Guinness. It must be stated that APCON performs its regulatory role having regards to laws establishing it and as such extends no favoritism to anybody so as to ensure fair play in the industry’, he said.

Kankarofi therefore deplored  what he describe as  media war engaged by Guinness, which he said was calculated ostensibly to ‘maneuver public perception against APCON over ordinary discharge of regulatory function’. He stated that since Guinness managing director, ‘Seni Adetu, in a letter dated May 7 alleged bias and discrimination among other things from the regulator, and in particular cast aspersion on the person of the ASP chairman, Ade Akinde, APCON had set up an investigation panel to look into the matter and to report to the council in few days time.

APCON had earlier in the year sanctioned Guinness by suspending the company’s certificates for alcoholic beverages advertising for failing to adhere to the ‘watershed’ timing of beaming advertisement of alcoholic drinks to Nigerian viewers during the 2012 AFCON football fiesta in South Africa, and the recently concluded English Premiership League, EPL, beamed live into the country by Digital Satellite Television, DSTV and simultaneously aired on some Nigerian television stations.

The regulatory body in a statement stated that having satisfied that Guinness had complied by withdrawing the offending adverts, and upon the recommendation of the Advertising Standards Panel, ASP, a body set up within APCON to monitor and investigate abuses of advertisement in Nigeria, subsequently lifted the ban on Guinness.

The statement read in parts: ‘the ban was lifted because Guinness complied by withdrawing all advertisement that had been scheduled to run and apologized over the broadcast of the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout adverts on Digital Satellite Television, DSTV, outside the prescribed period allowed by the APCON Codes of Advertising and Promotion guidelines’.

The ‘sanctions meted out to Guinness Nigeria Plc. were sequel to a deliberate breach of article 39 of the aforementioned provision which clearly prohibits the airing of alcoholic beverages between certain periods of time. The said Articles run thus: Advertisement for alcoholic beverages shall not be air between 6am to 10pm on radio and 6am to 10pm on television, but Guinness ‘Mode of More’ was aired on DSTV platform on Saturday February 2, 2013, at 14:40 West African Time during the CAF Nations Cup between Ghana and Cape Verde, and during the English Premier League live matches even after warnings and notifications from the council.

‘In lifting the ban on Guinness alcoholics beverages advertising, APCON has reiterated it position that nobody or company is above the law, and would sanctions any erring organization no matter how big or influential’, it stated.

However, Guinness Nigeria, on its part  frawn at the position of APCON describing it as deliberate falsehood, stressing  that there was no basis for the sanction as the company  had withdrawn the offending adverts even before APCON council met to sanction it.

In a widely circulated statement signed by Sesan Sobowale, the company corporate affairs director, Guinness countered that ‘contrary to the claim by APCON, Guinness Nigeria Plc had withdrawn the advertisement in question before the meeting of the APCON Council which endorsed the recommendation of the ASP to impose sanction on the company.

‘In fact, the decision by the ASP to recommend the withdrawal of the sanction imposed on Guinness Nigeria Plc followed a meeting between the management of the company, its marketing and media agencies and APCON in which the company established that it was not in breach of the relevant provision of the Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotion as of the date the decision by APCON was taken, it stated.

The statement also noted that, at the said meeting, both parties agreed the process of rescinding the withdrawal of certificates of approvals granted to Guinness Nigeria for the advertising of its alcoholic beverages including the submission of a letter by the company stating its side of the story.

‘As a matter of fact, the draft of the letter was jointly agreed with Mr. Ade Akinde, chairman of ASP who made input into it and explained that, in view of the fact that the Council of APCON had no scheduled meeting for another few weeks, the submission of the letter with part of the content provided by him was the fastest and easiest way of correcting the error, which the ASP had misled the Council of APCON into by its decision to withdraw the certificates of approval earlier issued to the company. Following approval of the draft letter by Mr. Akinde, it was printed on the company’s stationery, signed and submitted to APCON.

Guinness further noted that contrary to the assurances provided by the Chairman of the ASP, Mr. Ade Akinde, at the meeting with management of Guinness Nigeria Plc and its agencies that, in view of the fact that the company had complied with the directives of the ASP to withdraw the materials, it would not give undue publicity in the media to the decision of the Council of APCON to endorse its recommendations to sanction the company, the ASP promptly went to two media houses to publicise the erroneous decision!

‘Before the ASP recommended to APCON that the certificates of approval issued to Guinness Nigeria Plc be withdrawn, the company and the ASP had been in discussions in the past few months on alcoholic beverage advertising during the English Premier League (EPL) football matches on DSTV. There had been a difference of opinion between the parties on whether the watershed requirement for alcohol beverage advertising in the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice and Sales Promotions affect terrestrial feeds from satellite television stations based outside Nigeria.

‘ Following the parties’ inability to reach a consensus position on this issue, Guinness Nigeria requested for a moratorium to run the advertisement till the end of the EPL having made substantial commercial commitments in relation to the broadcast sponsorship. The ASP refused to grant this request.

‘Once it became clear that the ASP was resolute in its position on the issue and would neither withdraw its opposition to the advertising nor grant the moratorium requested for, Guinness Nigeria duly complied with its directives without further prompting.

Guinness also accused APCON of bias and discrimination in the matter alleging that ‘while the ASP was busy making unwarranted recommendations to the Council of APCON the “withdrawal until further notice of all certificates previously granted until full compliance with the advertising laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria particularly as they relate to advertisement of alcoholic products”, it has continued to display willful blindness in relation to similar advertising during the EUFA Champions’ League which was placed by another player in the alcohol beverage industry before the watershed period for alcoholic products advertising on television. As of one week ago, this advertising still featured prominently during the airing of the European Champions’ League matches.

Guinness also cast asperson on the integrity of the ASP chairman, Akin Akinde, stressing  that under such circumstances, the company connot genuinely trust the ASP and/or its Chairman, Mr. Ade Akinde will deliver unbiased decisions on matters within its remit?
‘While we recognize that the ASP and the Council of APCON have statutory obligations to enforce the rules relating to advertising in Nigeria, we respectfully submit that the obligation must be exercised fairly having due regards to the facts, must not be applied in a clearly discriminatory and vindictive manner and must be implemented with equal force to all players irrespective of relationship with chieftains of the ASP.

‘We find the content of the press release issued by APCON as a face-saving attempt to turn the facts on their head and designed to further deceive key stakeholders and members of the public about the real motive of Mr. Ade Akinde, and his sponsors in this untoward aggression towards Guinness Nigeria Plc.

Rather conveniently, the press release ignored portions of the letter where the company’s position that it was not in breach of any APCON regulation as of the date of the sanction was clearly set out and quoted other parts of the letter where the company purportedly apologized for its infraction out of context. Of course the small matter of the fact that the letter was drafted in concert with and with input from Mr. Akinde was lost in the hurry to rush to the public with a fabricated version of the facts.

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