The Union government has accepted the recommendations of a parliamentary panel to impose accountability on celebrities for endorsing products and for misleading advertisements.
According to the Section 75B of the new Bill, any “false or misleading” endorsement, which is “prejudicial to the interest of any consumer” will now be a penal offence, punishable with a jail term of up to two years and a fine of Rs 10 lakh for the first such offence, and imprisonment of five years along with a fine of Rs 50 lakh for the second and subsequent offences.
The issue of ‘celebrity responsibility’ caught national attention after captain of Indian cricket team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, had to terminate his contract with the real-estate firm Amrapali earlier this year.
Dhoni was the brand’s ambassador but ended his association with it after complaints from Amrapali residents emerged and a social-media campaign about people being defrauded by the builder.
What would the mechanism to prosecute celebrities? According to the Bill, a court shall take cognizance of offences regarding false and misleading advertisements only after a complaint is made by the Central Consumer Protection Authority. The authority, a new executive agency, will be established to fill “an institutional void in the regulatory regime extant”, a news report said.
While the intent of the government could be good, “misleading” is a vague and open-ended term. Take the case of Dhoni. He did end his contract with the realty firm but how would he have known that the company would fail to honour its commitment? If it was so easy to determine the intention of the company then the first to exit the deal would have been the home buyers.
Or take the case of celebrity tourism mascots for states. Would you blame a celebrity if the state government ends up doing something ridiculous? Or for that matter, will Incredible India brand mascots held responsible if tourists face a problem in the country?
Then what about sponsorships for commercial events? Will the government next ask sports authorities to stop taking sponsorship from cola companies or realty giants?
Celebs endorse brands for money. Don’t make them liable for the efficacy of the product.