Public Policy Issues and Consumer Interests in Asean Countries


Sara Douglas (1994) ,"Public Policy Issues and Consumer Interests in Asean Countries", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 191.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Page 191


Sara Douglas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

It is difficult to reduce the interests of consumers to simple models because the concept of the consumer is itself complex; consumers are not typical or average and they cannot be distinguished from citizens or workers. It is clear, however, that consumer interests cannot be examined effectively within the narrow confines of national borders. Worldwide consumers are learning to educate themselves about the many and increasingly complex types of exchange in which they are involved and better to protect themselves against abuses in exchange systems. The objective of this session is to explore relationships between consumer interests and public policy.

Each of the three papers in this session examines state policies that are relevant to consumers. The first, by Rosni Jaafar, takes a close comparative look at advertising policies and their objectives in Malaysia and Indonesia. She demonstrates that while advertising may be considered by some a "mirror of a society," advertising policy provides at least an equally useful reflection of national policymakers' priorities. In a sense Frith reverses Rosni's focus and provides an analysis of the differing views of consumption and consumer culture that exist in the United States and Southeast Asia, and the extent to which these seem to have been generated by different communication styles. Finally, Douglas broadens the approach further to look at consumer interest in public policy as a concept and to probe for the existence of a more specific consumer interest in trade policy. She examines consumer response to policy and consumer involvement in policymaking.

Several common themes emerge from the session. One is the explicit relevance of certain public policy issues to consumers. Consumers in both Malaysia and the United States have provided evidence of their emerging interest in a number of these, primarily by way of consumer organizations. Although this development is less advanced in Indonesia, indications are that consumers there also have concerns about selection, prices, health, and safety.

A second theme is the importance of culture - culture that policymakers hope will be promoted, maintained, and nurtured by public policy. Malaysia's advertising code, for example, is carefully structured to recognize Islam as the country's official religion. It is challenged, however, by the existence of a multiethnic population and the need to recognize that diversity in its advertising. A greater policy challenge is posed by multinational corporations that bring in multinational advertisers and advertising agencies, and a gradual Westernization of the consumer culture - particularly one that promotes adoption of Western ideas about the importance of consumption.

A closely related third theme mentioned in each of the three papers, is the way the official state ideologies affect public policy. In Malaysia, this state ideology is the Rukunegara; in Indonesia, it is the Pancasila. Both of these, conveyed to citizens in civics courses in the respective countries, are likely to stress a public or national interest rather than the more particularistic concerns of consumers. Frith notes that, in effect, commercials on Malaysian television are expected to have a secondary, social message, the purpose of which is to assist the government in fostering a sense of national unity and values. The Asian emphasis on collective interests rather than individual interests and rights, a generally accepted principle in the United States, seems to help explain fundamental Asian-American differences not only in public policy, but also in communication styles and the ways consumers perceive their interests and try to promote those interests.

For consumers, the result is the diminution of a voice that is not, in any case, very powerful. This is not unexpected in Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which have well-established and official ideological reservations about interest group politics; but it is only slightly more true in these countries than in the United States, its pluralist tradition notwithstanding. Douglas suggests that in the U.S., actions and words of consumers are far less explicit than that of the economists and politicians who tend frequently to advance consumers' arguments. But policymakers and economists act in the consumer's interest only indirectly - not in terms of what is best for the consumer, but, given what is assumed to be best for the state and the economy, then what is the role of consumers and how can policy enhance that role? Consumers, for the most part, allow their interests to be modified and articulated by others. Given numerous similarities in consumers' interest in policy, what approach can be used to promote their interests more directly? The degree to which international consumer groups will be able to work together easily in the future is problematic. On the other hand, there is no compelling reason why the same transnational forces encouraging transnational production and marketing should not lead to transnational consumerism.



Sara Douglas, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994

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