Telegraph: Advertising watchdog accused of bias

May 22, 2012

While the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) investigates our pro-marriage ads, its chairman is publicly campaigning for marriage to be redefined. Today’s Telegraph reports on the story, and says the ASA has been accused of bias.

The ASA admits there is a ‘conflict of interests’ and vows that Lord Smith will not be actively involved in any ruling about the C4M ads. But the ASA has rejected calls for Lord Smith, formerly Labour cabinet minister Chris Smith, to resign.

The ASA is investigating whether our ads (reproduced here) are “offensive”. The ad features images of C4M supporters on their wedding day with the headline “I do”. The text says: “70% of people say keep marriage as it is. Help us keep the true meaning of marriage. Please sign the petition. Click here. Coalition for Marriage.”

But the ASA says it has received ten complaints that the ad is “offensive” and so it has launched an investigation. It has written to the websites that displayed the ad, demanding an explanation. It had also asked them to keep quiet about the investigation.

One website that carried the ad is the popular blog about religion and politics, Archbishop Cranmer. It reacted to today’s news saying: “Lord Smith is actively campaigning for same-sex marriage while chairing an organisation that is investigating a perfectly reasonable and inoffensive advertisement promoting traditional marriage for alleged ‘homophobia’.

“The complaint is malicious and vexatious and ought to have been dismissed; the investigation is harassing, bullying and intimidating. Lord Smith’s position is untenable.”

Cranmer added: “The mere decision to investigate the Coalition for Marriage advertisement for being ‘offensive and homophobic’ is so patently absurd that the ASA’s profession of fairness and impartiality is already fatally undermined. The investigation is harassing, bullying and intimidating: the process they inflict is itself a punishment.

“They may very well eventually determine that the C4M ad is neither offensive nor homophobic, but this does not negate the fact that the ASA Council, under the chairmanship of Chris Smith, determined to extend their remit to incorporate the promotion of political causes and ideas.”

C4M Campaign Director, Colin Hart, told the Telegraph: “Cranmer raises some very important questions, not least: why is this frivolous and spurious complaint being investigated? There is a political campaign and there seems to be a willingness on the part of the ASA to do its uppermost to clamp down on freedom of speech and debate in this country. We should all be very worried about this investigation.”

The National Secular Society – which supports the redefinition of marriage – says that the ASA’s “bullying tone” should be resisted.