The Advertising Standards Authority has received a series of complaints about the above Coalition for Marriage advert running on Archbishop Cranmer’s weblog.
The complaints are about the claimed 70% figure for support for traditional marriage being wrong, that the advert is homophobic, and that some people are alleging that they are offended. The COMRES poll summary referred to is here.
We intend to deal with the complaint as a formal investigation, which means it will be considered by the ASA Council. We will then draft a recommendation for the Council based on your response to us. Once the Council has made a decision, the adjudication will be published on our website.
…We require you to explain your rationale for the ad and comment specifically on the points raised in the attached complaint notification…
The complaints have been on a series of grounds:
The ‘Issue’ here is that 24 anonymous complainants, ‘including the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group’ (doubtless disclosed to give weight to the allegations), challenged whether the claim ’70% of people say keep marriage as it is’. However, His Grace is not required to respond to that point, since he did not conduct the research. But it transpires that 10 of these 24 complainants objected that the ads were ‘offensive’ and ‘homophobic’, and he is requested to respond to these allegations ‘under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 4.1 (Harm and offence)’.
Cranmer (and other people) are calling it persecution. I think this is a little over the top. This is just the record of a complaint made, not an attempted ban.
There’s a good deal of silliness going on; calling the ASA the authorities and suchlike.
The ASA is a self-regulatory body, and as much of a direct threat to bloggers as is a Dachshund with no teeth to a postmistress in leather thigh-boots.
If the ASA does pose a threat it is via cooperation of the likes of Google, should they extend their cooperation with the ASA from their search engine to the Blogger service where Cranmer hosts his site, and possibly via any ability of ASA rulings to besmirch reputations.
Samizdata and the Ministry of Truth are more sensible. The the latter is worth a read as Unity is a strong opponent of the ‘religious’ lobby. Two comments over at Worstall’s place highlight key issues:
Whether or not I agree with what they’re saying I do know that we’ll all be entirely buggered if they’re not allowed to say it.
It is unlikely that Cranmer could be convicted, but in modern Britain, the process is the punishment.
The Coalition for Marriage is a ‘keep the laws on marriage as they are’ campaign, spearheaded by various church-linked bodies and individuals. The Coalition for Equal Marriage is a me-too campaign opposing the C4M mainly comprising pro-gay rights and anti-religious organisations.
I treasure journalist Andrew Brown’s reaction:
This really is one of the fucking stupidest pieces of harassment I have ever come across. So what if the C4M are dingbats? Trying to get you for carrying their ad is like like Jimmy Goldsmith trying to shut down Private Eye by suing the distributors.
And I’ve been doing my own bits of poking around.
I’d welcome some wider opinions. My current take is this:
1. The C4M and C4EM petitions are both no more than political marketing games, with meaningless numbers. I signed both the C4M and C4EM petitions as ‘Winnie the Pooh’ very early on, and no one has come back to me in either case.
2. There is something of an astroturf campaign targeting C4M via regulatory complaints. You can see people soliciting complaints at Pink News here and here. The same threads talk about several types of complaint that can be made.
3. As would be expected, there’s a strange brain-turned-off-while-having-an-hysterical-fit character to some of the analysis, for example James Peron at the Huffington Post:
Catholic Voices is an über organization in the United Kingdom that says their agenda is “putting the Church’s case in the public square.” This means that Catholic theology ought to be the foundation of public policy. It is a desire to impose Catholic moral views on a nation through the use of government force. When the religious right speaks of the “public square,” they are usually talking about state power. Catholic Voices is the Rick Santorum of the United Kingdom. The only real difference is that they wear ugly pullovers instead of sweaters.
The “poll” from Catholic Voices does a little of this. For instance, their data show that about 21 percent of those surveyed were over the age of 65. However, Index Mundi says that only 16.5 percent of U.K. residents are that old, while Wikipedia has it at 15.7 percent. Either way, older people, who are generally opposed to marriage equality, were given disproportionate influence in the poll, skewing the results in the direction that Catholic Voices wanted.
(Friend James is comparing his whole population profile with an opinion poll which uses people over 18+ falsely to identify the discrepancy he is getting excited about. )
4. I think that the Coalition for Marriage didn’t do their homework properly. They should have seen this elephant trap coming – or perhaps they did, and have decided to put a spotlight on it.
I can recall the Humanist Bus people having a debate about ‘There’s probably no God‘ vs ‘There’s no God‘, with the ‘probably’ needed to avoid trouble with the ASA people.
They were subsequently given some stick from the ‘die in the ditch rather than admit the possibility of doubt’ sharp-elbowed end of their movement for inserting ‘probably’.
5. Going for Cranmer, who is a ’distributor’, not a ‘publisher’, and a small one at that, seems a little bonkers.
6. The ASA process is that complaints are made in secret, they act in response to as few as one person, and the complainants are not disclosed. That makes it vulnerable to political manipulation and complaints targetted for political reasons. It needs some reform, and more scrutiny of its process.
7. This could lead to the complaints process closing down debate without the ASA noticing.
8. “Waaaah, I’m offended” is a peculiarly feeble complaint to make. Is that really the best they can do?
9. The crucial questions here are
a) Freedom of Expression
b) Who regulates the regulators?
That’s enough from me.
What say you?