Legislation under which the Office of Fair Trading has enforcement responsibilities
The legislation governing misleading advertisements can be found in the Consumer Protection (Trade Descriptions) Act 1970 ('the 1970 Act') and in the Consumer Protection Act 1991 ('the 1991 Act').
The 1970 Act makes it a criminal offence to falsely describe goods or services in the course of a trade or business. Not all false descriptions will be found to be criminal under this legislation as the enforcement authority must show that there was some intent to mislead or that the advertiser failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent the occurrence. It is also important to remember that a private individual misdescribing his own personal possessions in the course of a private sale cannot be prosecuted under this statute but a subsequent purchaser may be able to sue him for compensation in the civil courts.
The most common breach of the 1970 Act has been in connection with the motor trade where either the age or the mileage travelled by vehicles has been falsely described and heavy fines have resulted in many cases. In the service industries prosecutions have been taken against a variety of providers such as hotels for falsely describing their facilities and against building firms for misdescribing their qualifications or the work they had carried out. The false description of prices for both goods and services is a regular source of complaint and considerable effort goes into monitoring likely sources of complaint. The Office of Fair Trading has endorsed a code of practice for the indication of prices which is intended to provide business with guidance on how to avoid misleading prices. Copies of the code are available from the Office.
It is also worth pointing out that even if a business misdescribes the price at which goods or services are available for sale, they are under no obligation to supply you with those goods or services at the advertised price.
The 1991 Act provides a further means of addressing the issue of misleading advertisements, which although they may not be false (in the criminal sense) could mislead any person or damage a competitor. The Office of Fair Trading encourages self regulatory systems (such as the Advertising Standards Authority) to deal with complaints of this nature but where such systems fail to resolve the issue the Office is provided with additional powers. Where the Office considers that any advertisement is misleading and that it is in the public interest to prevent the continued display or publication of the advertisement, it may apply to the High Court for an injunction.
The Video Recordings Act 1995
In 1995 Tynwald passed the Video Recordings Act which brought legislation covering video sales to the Isle of Man for the first time. This Act was modelled on the UK Act but was extended to provide greater control over video suppliers as Tynwald perceived a problem with children viewing unsuitable video material.
The Office of Fair Trading has the task of implementing and policing this act for all video material sources. This means that we have not just concentrated on the video tape suppliers, although strict regulations cover these, but we have expanded our coverage to address the fast increasing amount of video material from other unregulated sources such as CD ROM and DVD for both games and films.
Since October 1997 all suppliers of age-classified videos must be registered with the Isle of Man Office of Fair Trading.
As part of this registration all suppliers have agreed to adhere wherever possible to a code of practice which helps to achieve a much higher level of awareness amongst both the suppliers and customers of the potential problems associated with supplying age-classified videos to children under that age.
There are two categories of video supplier:
- The supplier who is a registered supplier of age-classified videos, such as videos with a British Board of Film Censors (BBFC).
- The supplier who is exempt from registering because they only supply videos that are BBFC classified Uc, U, PG or are exempt from classification which is the case with educational or sporting videos.
A registered video supplier should display stickers on and around the video display. In addition, the Suppliers Registration certificate should be on display somewhere in the public area of the premises. A register of all registered video suppliers is maintained for public viewing at the OFT.
Each registered outlet should have trained all its members of staff in the legal requirements of video supply and the penalties that can be handed out should anyone supply to an under age person. We supply training material supplied by the Video Standards Council free of charge to all suppliers.
The penalties under the act are severe with a maximum £20,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. We believe that the customer education, sales-staff education and penalties provide a great deterrent to supplying to under-age customers.
Registered suppliers are visited from time to time by the Trading Standards Division to ensure that they are meeting the appropriate display and staff training standards required by the Office of Fair Trading. If you feel that someone who is not registered should be or have any complaints about any video supplier, then please contact the Office of Fair Trading with details of your misgivings.
Suppliers of age-classified video material are relatively easily regulated but form only a small part of the video material that we see. Most video material seen by children is officially unregulated and is provided by TV, satellite TV, cable TV and the Internet. It is impossible for somewhere the size of the Isle of Man to regulate the content of these broadcasts, especially satellite broadcasts which is the fastest growing source of video material at the moment.
Content in primary schools
The Office of Fair Trading recognises that it cannot not affect these forms of video content by regulation and so instead has chosen to provide all primary schools with an educational programme about the nature of what they see on TV. This programme teaches the most vulnerable age group of children about all aspects of the video image thereby providing them with an awareness that what they see is not real, but merely the camera's view of events. This programme, called Teaching Television in the Primary School, will we hope provide children with a critical faculty that can be used to protect them from any ill effects they might otherwise experience when viewing unsuitable material which we believe they inevitably will.
Advice to parents is available at Video Standards Council.