Authorities to strengthen rules on Internet ads for medicines

Updated: 2013-09-12 07:33

By Xu Wei (China Daily)

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Online illegal and fake ads for medicines will be the next major target for the authorities as they seek to establish a long-term mechanism to curb such ads in the wake of a three-month crackdown.

Authorities have started to draft regulations on Internet advertising to control such ads, Zhang Guohua, head of the advertisement supervision department under the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, said at a media briefing on Wednesday.

The Internet is expected to overtake television as the top medium for advertising by the end of the year, Zhang said, adding that supervision of websites has proved an arduous task for authorities.

More than 310 websites containing ads that exaggerate the drugs' effects to promote sales were closed by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology as part of a campaign launched by eight ministries in late April.

The campaign has investigated more than 6,900 such cases and suspended 213 business entities for running illegal ads.

Zhang said the cross-ministerial mechanism targeting illegal medicine ads will continue after the campaign and industry and commerce authorities will increase penalties on advertising companies and media outlets that breach the regulations.

He also urged media outlets to increase their scrutiny of ads before publishing them.

"Media should assume responsibility to scrutinize ads as a way of being responsible to the audience," he said.

One of the major reasons illegal ads that exaggerate the effects of drugs keep appearing in the media is the huge pressure media outlets face to survive, Zhang said.

"Our investigation suggests that advertising contributes to at least 90 percent of the revenue of all media outlets. The competition for advertising is fierce due to the large number of media publications," he said.

China has more than 9,000 newspapers and 2,000 magazines, while the number of websites is much larger.

Most of the fake and illegal ads appear on television channels or in publications below city level. "The more local the publication or television channel is, the stronger an influence it exerts on residents," he said.

Ma Ying, director of the department of policies, regulations and supervision of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said such ads are taking on new forms, such as lectures and seminars or television consultations, to avoid supervision.

"Some will publish a small ad in an influential newspaper first and then cross-reference that in other advertisements to increase its trustworthiness," he said.

Yu Mingde, chairman of the China Pharmaceutical Enterprises Association, said pharmaceutical enterprises only face a maximum fine of 30,000 yuan ($4,900) for using slogans that have not been approved by the authorities.

However, he insisted the solution lies primarily in better self-regulation by pharmaceutical enterprises and stricter regulations come second.

"It is impossible to give the death penalty to the people responsible for such ads. Such ads are still common even after repeated crackdowns. Harsher penalties do not provide solutions," he said.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce revealed 20 cases of severe violations of regulations on Wednesday, including 12 on television and radio stations, five on websites and three in newspaper publications.

In the case penalized the most heavily by the authority, an advertising company for a television and radio station in Nanchong, Sichuan province was fined 650,000 yuan and had advertising revenue of 610,000 yuan confiscated for broadcasting an advertisement that exaggerated the effects of a pharmaceutical product for cardiovascular diseases.

(China Daily USA 09/12/2013 page3)