Chillies and values
When The Sunday Times FT ran an email poll last year on the issue of scams following an outcry over too many scam ads at the Chillies, the premier ad agency awards, the majority of respondents frowned on scam ads.
Some suggested that if you want to have an ‘art’ exhibition, to open a separate category for scams at the event.
The spotlight turned on the industry and the chorus of protests, which one Chillies’ Steering Committee member shooed off as ‘a storm in a tea-cup’ and unnecessary focus, led to a stricter process this time. The new committee set up a scam-busting committee to weed out suspect scam ads.
But like Chillies Trustees Chairman Gerald de Saram says, there is no fool-proof method to stop this and the industry must take responsibility for this shameful conduct. De Saram in an interview with this newspaper didn’t mince his words when he said, “If you're going to cheat at your own event, something that you have put in place to raise the standards of your own advertising, you're cheating yourself. There's no point in having the Chillies." Murmurs of scam are surfacing once again after last week’s Chillies.
The issue of ethics, values and integrity in the industry has torn the fraternity apart and some disgusted members even consulted senior counsel in an effort to go to courts but saner counsel prevailed or the Chillies would have ended up in a ‘pol mallum’. Then there was the ‘Naughty’ nine who were keen to bring some decorum into the industry. ‘Naughty’ because they were going against the trends but – what we would call - ‘nice’ because they constitute some of the veterans in the industry who ventured into advertising at a time when ethics, values and morality was the name of the game.
While the drums will roll in coming weeks over the ‘haves’ (top winners) and the ‘have-nots’ (those who won few metals), what we would like to raise is not about the Chillies and the controversial scam ads but the bigger picture of a gradual break-down in the values system in this country. The public-at-large cares two hoots anyway for the reverberations in the ad industry.
Be it government, business, civil society, education or health, Sri Lankans in general have no qualms about breaking the law in a violence-filled environment. Look at how we behave on the roads – zipping past a red light just as it turns amber is common place and if stopped by a traffic cop it’s a case of trying to wiggle out rather than take responsibility. Isn’t that cheating?Few motorists may be aware that not reporting an accident is a violation of the law, however minor it is. But how many of us would gladly grab the on-the-spot insurance money rather than spend hours at a police station? Convenient but law-breakers! Are we better off than criminals?
Giving bribes to get things done at any government office, local councils or the municipality worker is ‘accepted’; you can’t get things done from the people who are supposed to ‘serve’ you. In reality many sections of the public sector that serves gets two salaries – one over the table and one under. And for both it’s the public that pays. No one complains or criticism goes unheeded.
Tenders and contracts are the most corrupt. One just has to turn the pages of the newspapers and see the kind of scams that are going on. The public are part of the scam by paying small or big ‘santhosam’ to get a contract or tender. Name of the game!
Bribery and corruption is rampant. But corruption is not money alone; it can be exerting influence, coercion, threats. Name of the game!
Sri Lanka, as we all know, is dying a slow death in terms of values, ethics and morality. Every industry has its own corrupt players. Here are two comments that we reproduce from the ‘scam’ series that we wrote last year: “There are so many scam ads going around; they don't build the brand. That is cheating. It might build some young ad man's career for six weeks but it doesn't do anything for the client. I am in business for the client, not for the awards - Trevor Beattie, Founding Partner, Beattie McGuinness Bungay.”
Godwin Perera on scams: “It is most unfortunate that an honourable and challenging profession such as advertising has allowed its reputation to be tarnished with ‘scam’. Scam is defined as a ‘plan or action for making money which is dishonest but is clever.’ In short it is unethical.”
It is clear that sections of the ad industry have also joined the bandwagon that’s taking this country down the precipice in the erosion of values, ethics, accountability and governance. But – as many would say, unfortunately – that’s the name of the game!