China's largest metropolis, Shangai proposes to start a citizen advisory panel, preventing advertisers from featuring billboards// with images that would offend local sensibilities.
The move follows a series of recent complaints over a huge billboard in the city's commercial Xujiahui area that displayed the bare thigh of a Hong Kong pop star selling skin-care products.
The billboard was taken down after authorities discovered that the space had been approved for a public service advertisement and that an improper switch had occurred.
To prevent such problems in the future, the Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau is preparing to set up a council involving residents, legal experts and industry representatives to weed out potentially offensive and misleading advertisements.
"It is sometimes difficult to decide whether ad content is improper because different people have different standards," the bureau's advertisement division chief, Miao Jun, was quoted as saying by Shanghai Daily.
State regulations require that female images used in advertising must be "healthy and positive" and help foster sound morals among young people.
More rigid internal guidelines existed in the industry in the 1990s, prohibiting women shown in ads from wearing skirts or shorts ending above knee level. But insiders say these rules are seldom enforced today, as society has become more open minded.
In most cases, authorities make individual judgments about whether an image will offend the public.
Ads that are not in public taste are not always sexually suggestive.
In a case last year, a little boy in Putuo District was frightened by a cosmetics ad on TV that featured a woman who appeared to zip off her skin. The ad gave the boy nightmares, and his mother complained to the consumer commission but to no avail.
Xu Hong, director of the Shanghai Adve
rtisement Monitoring Centre, said that while some complaints have been raised, the problem of offensive advertising was not a large one.
The advisory council will be used to arbitrate questionable material. It will also help authorities make judgments about exaggerated claims and misleading statements in advertising for medical services, equipment and health tonics.
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