Mobile watchdog is a full-time job for WASPA media monitor

Published on: 30th August 2011

As the media monitor at the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association of South Africa (WASPA), Ilonka Gray plays an invaluable role in safeguarding South African consumers from harmful content and advertising practices by the country’s WASPs.

Her position is an important one within WASPA as it promotes self-regulation of South Africa’s WASP industry. WASPs are service providers that provide mobile applications and content – such bulk SMS messaging, video clips, wallpapers, ringtones, and so on – to corporate customers and directly to consumers.

“My role is to ensure that members of the public can use these mobile services with confidence,” says Gray. “My position entails proactively watching over the industry rather than taking action only when we receive complaints from the public.”

With more than 10 years of experience in the mobile content industry and four years at WASPA, Gray has a deep passion for the WASP industry and an intimate understanding of how it works. For her, self-regulation of the industry is good for consumers and WASPs alike.

The purpose of the media monitor is to keep an eye on the media that WASPs advertise in and watch for transgressions of WASPA’s advertising rules and Code of Conduct. The goal is to protect members of the public from illegal content, misleading advertising, and inappropriate advert content.

Gray monitors advertising across a range of media, including television, cinema, radio, magazines, press, billboards, websites, WAP sites, below-the-line elements (brochures, posters, leaflets etc), SMS competitions, cellphone commercial messages and in-store advertising.

Some of the most common infractions she encounters are violations of the format that WASPA has defined for all WASP ads on television. The format is meant to ensure that all mandatory information is present as well as easy-to-read on televisions of all sizes. “We take this rule very seriously because consumers have the right to easily see information such as total pricing and helpline support before they subscribe to a service,” Gray says.

As a mother of two, Gray is especially committed to keeping harmful content away from children, such as ads for adult services during prime time viewing. She works with both WASPA members and the cellular networks to try and keep illegal and inappropriate content off the South African cellular networks.

When a WASP has violated the Code of Conduct in its advertising, Gray will immediately send a letter to the service provider informing it of the contravention. The WASP has two days in which to respond with a remedy.

“This process works wonderfully and almost all issues are resolved without having to proceed to a formal complaint,” Gray says, Ads that violate the Code may be pulled from circulation, costing WASPs both time and money. As a result, most take the Code fairly seriously. Gross or repeated transgressions may result in severe sanctions against a WASP – it can fine members, suspend them, and force them to pull advertising from media.

Gray says that her office provides an advisory service for WASPS that assists them with marketing campaigns before they launch, also in an effort to create compliance. Though not formal or compulsory, it is helping to lift the level of compliance with the WASPA Code of Conduct.