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Responsible! Responsible?

Posted in View Point


Published on June 12, 2015 with No Comments

Ever since the change of guard at India, the government and its agencies have been reacting with the simplest of solutions to any problem. Ban!
IIT Madras’s banning of the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle of students under the directions of HRD Ministry consequent to an anonymous complaint against the study circle, only to be revoked 10 days later casted aspirations on the intent of the ruling party in India. The latest case of banning Maggi noodles has raised many warranted questions. The mere mention of Maggi takes almost all Indians back down the memory lanes –that two minute zingle, the first fast food product that gave the housewives something to cut short the cooking time, and food that even a child could make.


Detection of Lead led to invoking ban and Nestle has been in business for over thirty two years!
Why were the government agencies not able to detect the same earlier? When was the last sample testing done? Shouldn’t samples of other companies be taken? As concerned Indians were trying to ponder over those questions, government threw another surprise, this time going beyond the “ban”. A court notice directing police to register FIRs against Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit Nene and Preity Zinta for their appearances in Maggi advertisements! That brought forth the age old debate: Can celebrities be held responsible for the brands they endorse?
In the past, actors have landed in trouble over endorsement issues. The recent one being Bollywood star Govinda who received a notice from the Food and Drugs Administration for promoting a herbal oil that he claimed to cure aches and pains. In 2012, a court in Hyderabad directed police to file a case against actor Genelia D’Souza for promoting a real estate firm that was accused of cheating. In West Bengal, actor Mithun Chakraborty was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate over his role as the brand ambassador of the Saradha Group of companies that embezzled millions for hapless investors.
They are simply actors, playing a role in a 30-second film and get paid for the same. But the notice to the three celebrities will make them wonder on their role as brand an ambassador that goes beyond just acting as it amounts to coaxing prospective customers. Because of their star power, celebrities are considered powerful enough to cast a spell on masses which in turn leads to sale of the product. Due to their sheer power, they can demand what the consumers can’t-the information. In a country where sharing of information of food ingredients and food safety is of little concern, celebrities can be the catalysts for the brands to come out more clearly on food safety. But can they be sent a notice for not having done so when there is no compliance requirement for the same in the law? In adequacy in norms can’t be a reason for non compliance. How, then, can Bachchan or Dixit or Zinta be held responsible for a faulty batch of Maggi? If someone detects a higher level of petroleum jelly in say, Lux soap, should all heroines who endorse it or have ever done so, be hauled into court? Celebrities neither make the product nor are they competent to technically evaluate a product and hence can’t be expected to answer questions on the nutritive value.
Indian celebrities have been maintaining high ethical and moral responsibility while endorsing products. Kangana Ranaut won herself applause for refusing to do any ads for so-called ‘fairness’, or skin whitening, creams on the grounds that it was a clearly racist and morally questionable product. In 2010, Maharashtra Government appreciated Sachin Tendulkar for choosing principles over money, by saying ‘no’ to endorse a liquor advertisement.
Sending notice to the celebrities has been a diversion tactics by the government to avoid questions on efficiency of its agencies. Was sending notice to the celebrities the only alternative with the government? In the Maggi case, the smart thing to do would have been to test a few other samples from the Maggi plant in the light of the fact that results from Singapore AVA’s laboratory which cover “a wide range of hazards associated with food” showed that the India-made Maggi instant noodles meet local food safety standards. The government could have picked up noodles from other brands to ensure that the masses only consume good that meet the standards; however nothing of that kind of planned.
By planning to take brand ambassadors to task, the government has taken an easy task, to go after the hapless celebrities who are predictably clueless about the storm that has hit them – in order to make a spectacle of it and divert from the real causes of high lead content in food products.


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