Did SANRAL mislead the public?
ASASA received a complaint from Dr Yahya Atiya, who said that an advertisement by SANRAL stating that consumers who have outstanding e-toll fees will receive a 60% discount and have six months to pay is misleading, as the new dispensations to allow for this have not yet been put into place.
Atiya believed that the manner in which SANRAL presented this information led consumers to assume that this discount was already available to them.
In a statement released by SANRAL, it said: “The South African National Roads Agency (SOC) Limited (SANRAL) disagrees with the ruling of Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa’s (ASASA) regarding the advert that was flighted on behalf of government to create awareness of the new dispensation of the e-toll system.”
The advertisement was broadcast during June 2015. It stated: "Government has listened to you and responded by giving you a new e-toll dispensation. Among other things, we’ve reduced the rate to 30 cents per kilometre for light motor vehicles and slashed the monthly cap by 50%. If you have outstanding e-toll fees dating back to December 2013, you will receive a 60% discount and six months to pay. We thank all who have paid their dues. You have helped in moving South Africa forward.”
Vusi Mona, SANRAL general manager for communications, stressed that the road agency had not intended to mislead the public.
“This advert was flighted from May 28th and during the month of June following the Deputy President’s announcement of the new dispensation. The advert was aimed at communicating the message that Government has heard the people and responded with a new dispensation that included the 60% discount,” he explained.
Mona added: “Through advertising, we sought to make the public aware of the provisions of the new plan that would assist them in clearing their e-toll debt and make e-tolls more cost effective for Gauteng road users.”
According to SANRAL, the advertisement “was merely a solidification message that Government has heard the people and responded by providing the new dispensation including the 60% discount. This was not a SANRAL call to action, and the commercial does not state who is presenting the content.”
It added: “SANRAL is currently busy implementing the required system changes in order to allow people to benefit from the new dispensation. However, it can only implement these and call people to action once the Minister of Transport officially approves the new changes, and it is published in the government gazette.
“Call centre staff are trained to inform road users that the new dispensation 60% discount is not in effect yet,” said SANRAL.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Directorate upheld the complaint made by Atiya. Itfound that the language used in the advertisement implied that people would already receive the discount, and did not make any mention to the fact that the proposals for this discount are not yet in effect.
“The respondent confirmed that it can only effect the changes mentioned in the commercial once the Minister of Transport officially approves them and they are published in the government gazette.
“The omission of this vital information is likely to create a misleading expectation, with listeners believing that they are already entitled to the various savings, when in fact this is not yet the case,” noted the ASA Directorate.
It added: “While the Directorate accepts that the respondent’s call centre staff have been trained to inform users that the new dispensation discounts are not in effect yet, this could, at best, only serve to correct the misleading impression already created in the commercial.”
Following the finding that the advertisement was misleading, the ASA Directorate has ordered SANRAL to remove it with immediate effect, and to “not use the commercial in the current format again in the future.”
Mona stated: “SANRAL believes that this issue should not have come before ASASA, particularly because the adverts are no longer being flighted, which in effect makes ASASA’s decision null and void.”
According to Mona, there appears to be “an organised and co-ordinated campaign against SANRAL.” This is following a number of queries regarding the company’s e-toll adverts, with no queries relating to any of its other campaigns.