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Advertising watchdog accused of political censorship

By John Smeaton, SPUC

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been accused of political censorshop for launching a spurious investigation into an advertisement against same-sex marriage.

The ASA launched the formal investigation after it received one complaint against a newspaper advertisement placed by SPUC. The advertisement warned that "gay relationships will be promoted in schools" if the Government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) bill becomes law. The complaint alleged that the statement was "misleading". The ASA has demanded that SPUC substantiate its claim.

SPUC has today replied to the ASA with a robust letter accusing the ASA of "trespassing on freedom of expression in the political field".  The letter, among other things, says:

  • "Is it really the case that the ASA is going to appoint itself as the arbiter of the meaning of forthcoming legislation and ban advertisements that are not consistent with its view?"
  • "Most would consider that such political debate, whether or not manifested in advertisements, is none of the ASA’s business."
  • "[SPUC is] not reassured as to the ASA’s impartiality given that its chairman is Chris Smith, the peer and former Labour MP and Vice President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality … If the ASA’s intention is to police political advertising then common sense dictates that it cannot have a politician running the organisation."
  • "[T]he ASA has repeatedly alleged that advertisements that oppose gay marriage are “offensive” or, in any event, demanded of publishers that they show that they are not."
  • "[T]he ASA is politically compromised and simply has no right or authority to become involved in matters of political debate."
  • "[I]f a non-statutory, self-regulating body such as the ASA intends to trespass on freedom of expression in the political field then this is a development that would need to be reviewed by the courts at the earliest opportunity."
  • "[I]n consequence of the bill, schools will also need to promote same-sex marriage. This does not mean that individual teachers will have to extol its use but they would have to promote its existence."

Read here 

Read also:  Cranmer on the ASA's bias here and here


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