Monday, April 21, 2014

Compliance With Advertising Regulations

Ministerial Decision 143/2000 defines advertisement as “any writing, painting or picture prepared for publicity, propaganda or guidance to the name of a commercial, industrial or professional shop, product, service or any other business. An advertisement may be fixed, mobile, lighted by power or not lighted, hung or one prepared for printing or distribution among citizens.”

The main regulation that governs advertising within Muscat is the Local Ordinance 25 of 1993 (“Ordinance”) promulgated by Muscat Municipality. The Municipality controls and inspects all the advertisements in Oman. They are also responsible for reviewing the locations and forms of the existing advertisement in case the company fails to comply with the provisions under the Ordinance.

In general, it is important to note that in Oman freedom of the press and expression including advertising content is subject to limitations. Any form of advertising that the Omani Government authorities would deem detrimental to state security or public order, or offensive to societal values or customs, is not allowed.

Rules and Regulations on Advertisements

Ordinance 25/93

The Ordinance covers a broad range of advertising formats (e.g., shop display ads, billboards, banners, print ads, packaging) and regulates many aspects related to such advertising, including sites and installation, permits and licensing, and restrictions and prohibitions on content.

The Ordinance essentially prescribes a two-step process for carrying out such advertising:

  1. Obtain a permit/license from the Municipality for the site where the advertising infrastructure (e.g., the billboard frame) will be installed; and
  2. Obtain permission/approval from the Municipality for the advertising content (e.g., the poster advertisement) that will be displayed.
Article 8 of the Ordinance sets out certain restrictions on advertising content which includes the following:
  1. The main language of the advertisement shall be literary Arabic;
  2. The English language may be used provided that it is next to the Arabic language;
  3. The translation from Arabic to English shall be correct linguistically;
  4. The content of the advertisement shall not be against the public order or morals or security and shall not be against customs and religious beliefs;
  5. The size of the advertisement shall be suitable enough to write the name and kind of activity and be completely suitable with the fa├žade of the shop and the general view;
  6. The advertisement shall not be an obstacle to pedestrians or traffic and the advertisement shall not cause the destruction of any connection or services or plantations or impede the rescue services or ventilation or cause damage to others;
  7. It shall not contrast the organisational aspect of the town or area or spoil the public view; and
    An advertisement requires a license (a written approval) from the landowner.
Article 7 of the Ordinance further prohibits advertising in certain types of locations e.g., in and surrounding mosques, Omani government properties, and public parks.

The period of the permit for advertisement fixed boards is two years renewable for one or more equal periods. The renewal should be sought at least one month before the expiry date of the permit.

Violations of the Ordinance are subject to a fine up to 50 Omani Rials for the first and second offense, and a fine of up to 100 Omani Rials for subsequent offences. Further, the Municipality has the right to remove any advertisement which is not in compliance with the Ordinance.

Publication and Printing Law

Oman’s Publication and Printing Law, promulgated by Royal Decree 49 of 1984, also sets out types of content that are prohibited from being published, such as:
  1. Any material that, expressly or by suggestion, discredits his Majesty the Sultan of Oman or a member of the Royal Family;
  2. Any material posing a risk to the safety and national security of the government;
  3. Any material detrimental to public order, or instigating crime, arousing hatred, spreading obscenity or causing social discord;
  4. Any material offensive to Islamic values;
  5. Any material jeopardizing the national currency or the Securities Market; and
  6. Any material relating to the news, pictures, and comments related to individuals, family, or private lives.
In relation to most of the content issues under the Publication and Printing Law as described above, the primary regulator is the Ministry of Information, which acts at its discretion against any content that it deems to be prohibited. However, the Publication and Printing Law also contains a couple of sector-specific approval requirements:
  1. Advertisements related to medicines and medical preparations must be approved by the Ministry of Health (i.e., in addition to the normal approval by the Municipality), and
  2. Advertisements related to the arts must be approved by the Ministry of National Heritage & Culture (i.e., in addition to the normal approval by the Municipality).
The requirements of the Publication and Printing Law should be taken very seriously. Publishing or advertising prohibited matters can result in imprisonment for a term up to three years, fines of up to two thousand Rials Omani (US$ 5,200), or both.

Consumer Protection Law

Oman’s Consumer Protection Law, promulgated by Royal Decree 81/2002, requires companies to abide by the principles of fair dealing and credibility when dealing with consumers. The principle of fair dealing stated in the Consumer Protection Law has been interpreted to impose a general legal requirement that advertisements must not be intentionally false, misleading or deceptive.