MEDIA COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA
The Media Council of Australia (MCA) was an association of commercial publishers’ and broadcasters’ organisations formed in 1968 as a peak advocacy body for the media industry, and specifically to be responsible for administering a range of self-regulatory codes and the accreditation of advertising agencies. This arrangement effectively put the media in charge of both advertising content and the advertising industry itself. The MCA would submit voluntary regulatory codes to the Trade Practices Commission (TPC) for approval, and be accountable for the effective conduct of those codes. The TPC was a federal government statutory authority, replaced by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), in 1995. The codes included regulations for the advertising of certain kinds of products, notably therapeutic goods, cigarettes and alcohol. Advertising material for such goods had to be approved by the relevant member bodies of the MCA—such as, in the case of television commercials, the Federation of Australian Commercial Television Stations (now Free TV Australia). The MCA also administered an Advertising Code of Ethics, intended to be binding on all forms of media.
In 1974, the Advertising Standards Council (ASC) was set up under the auspices of the MCA, in conjunction with the advertiser and advertising agency associations, the Australian Association of National Advertisers and the Advertising Federation of Australia respectively. The purpose of the ASC was to interpret and adjudicate on breaches of the various self-regulatory codes, particularly in response to complaints from the public. However, when the ASC’s decisions were published, the small number of complaints upheld encouraged the perception that they often found in the advertiser’s favour.
As well as administering codes governing advertising content, the MCA was in control of the accreditation of advertising agencies through its component organisation, the Australian Accreditations Bureau. In an era in which advertising agencies were remunerated entirely by the commissions paid by the media for the sale of advertising space and time to their clients, the media had an interest in making sure that the agencies were solvent enough to be able to trade on credit. The MCA could thus ensure that only agencies in good financial standing would be accredited—that is, eligible to be paid commissions—so accreditation became like a licence to practise advertising. However, advertisers did not see their interests being served by these arrangements. In 1995, the system was challenged by the TPC, which found it anti-competitive, and determined that it should be abolished. The MCA’s arguments that the system provided financial stability to the industry, and a basis for enforcing the regulatory codes, did not prevail.
In the wake of the TPC’s ruling, the MCA no longer had a rationale, and ceased to operate. The administration of the industry codes and handling of complaints from the public was put under a new self-regulatory body, the Advertising Standards Board, established in 1998 and funded by a levy on advertising, and replacing the former ASC.
REFs: Australian, 26 March 1998; K. Fowles and N. Mills, Understanding Advertising (1981).