On January 9, 2024, Cambodia’s Ministry of Information (MOI) issued an official notification letter reminding the alcohol and advertising industries of past directives, instructions, and the MOI’s Code of Conduct surrounding alcohol advertising. The step comes as the MOI reports that they are seeing increased noncompliance in this area of advertising. In addition, several recent high-profile traffic accidents that involved drunk driving are likely serving as a trigger for the government to review its alcohol-related policies, including on advertising.
Alcohol Advertising Rules and Limits
The notification letter reminds the industry that there are limits to alcohol advertising, including:
- Advertising alcohol alongside potential prizes or undertaking “other activities that motivate, encourage, or entice people to overindulge on alcohol”; and
- Using women or minors to advertise alcohol.
Furthermore, all alcohol advertising must also include the phrase “Don’t Drink and Drive” or “Drink Responsibly.”
The notification letter explains that media outlets failing to comply with the instructions may be subject to penalties. Although the penalties are not clearly identified in reference to a specific law or regulation, it is possible that actions could include the consequences outlined under the agreement between each media outlet and the MOI, with potential suspension of the media license being an option in case of persistent noncompliance. However, this rather strong enforcement tool would only affect the media outlet that carries out the advertising rather than the alcohol producer that instigated the advertising. Penalties for the alcohol industry are not immediately clear, although it may be that the possible suspension or taking down of noncompliant advertising is considered a sufficient penalty for the time being.
Past MOI Circulars and Letters
The notification letter further reminds the industry to follow Circular No. 492 on Alcohol Advertisement (2014). It also references two notifications (Nos. 1134 and 1294) on the same subject that were issued in 2017.
The 2017 notifications refer to a requirement to register and seek permission for advertising with rewards, suggesting that certain forms of alcohol advertising with prizes or rewards may be permitted by the MOI.
Furthermore, the notifications state that alcohol advertisements may only mention brand information and where to purchase the products without containing further enticing imagery.
The latest notification letter does not repeat these strict content requirements, and in practice, the prohibition on enticing imagery has often been ignored. A quick survey of the current state of the alcohol advertising industry in Cambodia shows that noncompliance is widespread, with many brands using, for example, images of influencers to advertise their products.
In addition, the conflicting or unclear instructions in the letters, notifications, and circular do not seem to encourage effective self-regulation, as the rules leave room for interpretation or at least an argument that there is confusion over the exact rules.
Alcohol Control Legislation
Hopes are pinned on the draft Law on Alcohol Control, although the law has been lingering in the draft stages since 2015.
This law would likely include clearly legislated penalties and should set a clear framework for authorities to enforce, rather than relying on circulars, letters, instructions, and codes of conduct that may not have clear legal bases or penalties tied to noncompliance.