By law alcohol companies in the country are only allowed to advertise at the point of sale, but most of the popular brands manage to advertise themselves thorough indirect methods, which might entail coming up with products such as clothing range, mineral water, music albums and exclusive merchandize with the same name. These products are then marketed aggressively to improve the visibility of the brand. Alcohol is shown as the part of attractive lifestyle, within the reach of normal aspirations that the nation’s youth may harbour. The companies use billboards ads of these surrogate brands, to display punch lines and brand logos, which encourage drinking. This is a highly convoluted way of doing things. Why can’t the alcohol companies send out their message directly?
Occasionally we get to see articles in the print media, which accuse alcohol companies of indulging in surrogate advertising. But why! Why are the alcohol companies being blamed for surrogate advertising? In a just society, every company, whose product can be sold legally in the market, also has the right to advertise its products. Alcohol is freely available in the country, even in areas where there is prohibition. Prohibition did not work when it was imposed in USA, and it certainly does not work in India. In every city, town and village drinks are available, in most places it is available legally, and in few pockets of prohibition, places like Gujarat, it can be had from the friendly neighbourhood bootlegger.
In fact, the government of India is itself the largest manufacturer and distributor of alcohol based drinks. In New Delhi, the state government is running majority of the hard drink shops. When the government itself is selling liquor in the country, then why does it place a ban on its advertising. In fact, a ban on advertising of liquor is a gross violation of people’s fundamental right of free speech. The manufacturers of beer, wine and other hard drinks have as much right to free speech as any other citizen of the country. If the government can get away with gagging the liquor manufacturers then what stops it from stopping other sections of the population from speaking their mind.
The mainstream media has been addressing this issue with complete hypocrisy. They are the main beneficiaries of every direct or indirect form of advertising and yet they criticize the phenomenon of surrogate advertising. This is almost like having the cake and eating it too. If a media outlet is against surrogate advertising then they should stop taking such advertisements. But the more important point in this issue is that of freedom of speech. Why is the media silent on the issue of freedom of speech? For so many years, the freedom of speech of the liquor manufacturers in the country has been violated and the media chooses to be silent on this issue. This is probably because the journalist community has imbibed the propaganda that liquor drinking is evil.
This is not true. There is hardly any real evidence to suggest that good quality liquor, when taken in moderate quantities, will harm your health. In fact, in many developed countries around the world, where liquor is freely available across the counter, people enjoy much better health. And in case liquor is so bad, then why are the central government and many state governments in the business of producing, distributing and taxing liquor. Why not place a blanket ban on it and turn India into a nation of juvenile teetotallers? There is no justification for banning consumption of liquor or banning its advertisement in popular media. By banning the sale of liquor in different parts of the country the government violates people’s freedom of choice, and by banning it’s advertising, it violates the freedom of speech.
India cannot be a real democracy, till we continue to have such bans. All forms of censorship must go. People have the right to say, hear and watch anything and everything. The government has no right to curb the fundamental rights of any individual or industry.