The Advertising Standards Authority this week ruled that this billboard in the Wellington CBD should be removed, because the advertisers had failed to identify themselves. Its ruling has since been flouted. Today, the offending billboard was still in position.
Press Release: Advertising Standards Authority – December 23
COMPLAINT NUMBER 13/480
COMPLAINANT M. Gilbert and V.Wood
ADVERTISER A Billboard
ADVERTISEMENT A Billboard
DATE OF MEETING 11 December 2013
The billboard advertisement said “the UK government has the moral courage to pass law restricting children’s access to porn websites. Innocence is important. Does the National Party?”
The Complainant said that the advertisement was clearly a political advocacy advertisement, and it was completely anonymous. A duplicate Complainant shared similar views that there was no attribution to the advertisement.
The Complaints Board said that the advertisement was in breach of Rule 11 because the Advertiser had failed to identify themselves in the advertisement which was an essential element to advocacy advertising. As such, the Complaints Board ruled to Uphold the complaint.
[Advertisement to be removed]
Please note this headnote does not form part of the Decision.
COMPLAINTS BOARD DECISION
The Chairman directed the Complaints Board to consider the advertisement with reference to Rules 1, 5 and 11 and Basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics. This required the Complaints Board to consider whether the advertisement was clearly distinguishable as an advertisement and whether it contained anything, which in the light of generally prevailing community standards, was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
Further, the Complaints Board was required to consider whether the advertisement was prepared with the due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society. In considering the advertisement, the Complaints Board were also required to consider the provisions of Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics which provided that in advocacy advertisements, expression of opinion may be robust.
A preliminary procedural matter was raised by the Chairman who directed the Complaints Board to consider whether the advertisement should be considered under Rule 1 and Rule 5 of the Code of Ethics. The Complaints Board said that issues of offence and identification in relation to an advertisement, not the advertiser, were not raised by the Complainants. The Complaints Board therefore moved to consider the complaint under Rule 11 and Basic Principle 4 on the Code of Ethics.
Also applicable were the Advocacy Principles, developed by the Complaints Board in previous Decisions for the application of Rule 11. These said:
1 That Section 14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, in granting the right of freedom of expression, allows advertisers to impart information and opinions but that in exercising that right what was factual information and what was opinion, should be clearly distinguishable.
2. That the right of freedom of expression as stated in Section 14 is not absolute as there could be an infringement of other people’s rights. Care should be taken to ensure that this does not occur.
3. That the Codes fetter the right granted by Section 14 to ensure there is fair play between all parties on controversial issues. Therefore in advocacy advertising and particularly on political matters the spirit of the Code is more important than technical breaches. People have the right to express their views and this right should not be unduly or unreasonably restricted by Rules.
4. That robust debate in a democratic society is to be encouraged by the media and advertisers and that the Codes should be interpreted liberally to ensure fair play by the contestants.
5. That it is essential in all advocacy advertisements that the identity of the advertiser is clear.
The Complaints Board turned to the concerns of the Complainants that the advertisement was a political advocacy billboard which did not identify the Advertiser.
The Complaints Board confirmed that the identity of the Advertiser was not clear, in fact, it said there was no information about the Advertiser on the billboard whatsoever in contravention of the requirement of Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics.
The Complaints Board noted that the Complainant was “appalled” by the advertisement, however, the Complaints Board said that advocacy advertising allowed for the expression of robust opinion, as long as fact and opinion were clearly distinguishable. However, the Complaints Board said that the advertisement was in breach of Rule 11 because the Advertiser had failed to identify themselves in the advertisement, which was an essential element to advocacy advertising.
The Complaints Board expressed concern that the Advertiser and the Media chose not to respond to the complaints.
The Complaints Board said that the advertisement was in breach of Rule 11 and the advertisement was not prepared with a due sense of social responsibility required under basic Principle 4 of the Code of Ethics.
Accordingly, the Complaints Board ruled to Uphold the complaint.
DESCRIPTION OF ADVERTISEMENT
The billboard advertisement said:
“The UK government has the moral courage to pass law restricting children’s access to porn websites. Innocence is important. Does the National Party?”
COMPLAINT M. GILBERT
Hi, there’s a massive billboard on the corner of Bowen & Stout Sts, Wellington, that is clearly a political advocacy advertisement, and it’s completely anonymous.
It reads: “The UK government has the moral courage to pass law restricting children’s access to porn websites. Innocence is important. Does the National Party?”
I’m pretty appalled by this and believe this billboard to be in breach of the Advertising Code of Ethics. Can I register a complaint and can you give me guidance as to next steps?
Code of Ethics
Basic Principle 4: All advertisements should be prepared with a due sense of social responsibility to consumers and to society.
Rule 1: Identification – Advertisements should be clearly distinguishable as such, whatever their form and whatever the medium used; when an advertisement appears in a medium which contains news or editorial matter, it must be presented so that it is readily recognised as an advertisement.
Rule 5: Offensiveness – Advertisements should not contain anything which in the light of generally prevailing community standards is likely to cause serious or widespread offence taking into account the context, medium, audience and product (including services).
Rule 11: Advocacy Advertising – Expression of opinion in advocacy advertising is an essential and desirable part of the functioning of a democratic society. Therefore such opinions may be robust. However, opinion should be clearly distinguishable from factual information. The identity of an advertiser in matters of public interest or political issue should be clear.
BOTH THE ADVERTISER AND MEDIA HAVE ADVISED THAT THEY WISH NOT TO RESPOND