ASA rules against SANRAL for misleading adverts
Several weeks ago OUTA's social media consultant Rob Hutchinson, and a consumer Mrs Sheleen Long, lodged complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA) against SANRAL for a radio commercial which thanked “people and organisations that have taken up 1,2 million tags for the Gauteng e-roads”, which further stated that such people had “recognised the benefits of the improved roads… keeping the lights on and the cameras watching over you,”
The ASA Directorate said that SANRAL had provided no proof of the number of e-tags sold, despite having been given another month to substantiate their claim. It ruled that this unsubstantiated claim was therefore also misleading and “in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II.. of the code”.
With respect to the second complaint ASA also ruled that the cameras were clearly not "watching over you" as a safety measure, and that it created a “misleading impression, and exaggerates the functionality and the purpose of the cameras” since “they serve no safety purpose and are merely used for billing purposes”.
The third complaint was lodged by Mr Stephen Haywood who disputed Sanral’s claims of the road user’s average monthly cost of e-tolls as being “flawed and ambiguous, if not disingenuous”. While SANRAL had claimed that over 82,83.% would pay less than R100 per month and only 1% of road users would pay more than R400 per month, Mr Haywood calculated on the basis of known traffic volumes between Johannesburg and Pretoria that the actual figures were vastly different. He argued that in all likelihood less than 8% would pay less than R100 per month and that 10% would pay more than R400 per month (and reach the e-tagged capped amount of R450 per month).
SANRAL were afforded time to substantiate their calculations but failed to do so. Accordingly the ASA upheld the complaint.
On all three counts the ASA has found SANRAL’s advertising to be unsubstantiated and misleading and ordered SANRAL to withdraw the advertising “with immediate effect” and has instructed that it “must not be used again in its current format unless new substantiation has been submitted, evaluated and accepted by means of a new Directorate ruling.”
OUTA spokesperson John Clarke says the rulings are a demonstration of the importance of active citizenship and challenging that which appears to be untrue. “We and many others did not believe SANRAL’s claims in their advertising campaign when they were made months ago. These ASA rulings are significant because they once again portray SANRAL as an organisation that lacks transparency and cannot be trusted with their misleading advertising and PR campaigns. We regard this as a serious matter for a State Owned Institution. SANRAL is not simply purveying propaganda, but using tax payers money to desperate measures to broadcast factually incorrect information”.
OUTA is thankful that we have such inclusive institutions such as the ASA which offer citizens recourse when they are misled and deceived. SANRAL has not simply exaggerated and misled, it has abused its authority and undermined the legitimacy of the State and continues to act as an ‘exclusive economic institution’ whereas it ought to be inclusive, participatory and respectful.
Recently, Cape High Court judge Denis Davis provided insights during his address to the Social Justice Initiative, of the importance of citizens taking ownership of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by holding state institutions accountable to those values. His overview of the characteristics of an exclusive, extractive economic institution fits SANRAL precisely. Our country’s long term economic prosperity will be eroded if extractive institutions such as SANRAL are allowed to hold sway over those who use infrastructure, pay their taxes, and create employment.”
“There is much more work that needs to be done to bring SANRAL to book,” says Wayne Duvenage, Chairperson of OUTA. “We will continue to fight the irrationality and unlawfulness of e-tolling. The looming elephant is the room remains SANRAL’s silence over the past year, in seeking stringent recourse on behalf of society from the collusive construction cartels who substantially increased the construction of the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project. In addition, SANRAL’s meaningless public engagement process and shocking facts provided to the Minister of Transport when making the e-toll decision in 2008, provides society with all the reasons they need to defy the unjust scheme, as is the case with over 1,3 million un-tagged freeway users who continue to do so.”