Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Watchdog defends failure to act on anti-abortion ads

http://www.asai.ie/images/newtopbanner.jpgThe advertising watchdog has defended its failure to act on anti-abortion ads which have been branded as "offensive and inaccurate".
The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) has discussed the advertising campaign by Youth Defence with the office of Pat Rabbitte, the communications minister.

The ASAI said it is constitutionally prevented from taking any action against them which could constitute a breach of freedom of speech.

It is to carry out a review of the remit later this year which, according to Mr Rabbitte, "offers all stakeholders the opportunity to engage with them on this difficult issue".

The authority said it has received over 100 complaints about the ads, which show images of young, distraught women and foetuses.

They carry slogans such as "Abortion tears her life apart" and "There’s always a better answer", with the word "always" underlined.

The ASAI’s chief executive, Frank Goodman, said people have expressed frustration that they have not been able to do anything about the adverts.

"It’s not a matter of ducking, we just don’t have any option of looking at it," he said.

"We have a particular remit and the legal advice is we can’t go outside that."

The authority is independent of the Government and was set up and financed by the advertising industry. Its remit does not extend beyond commercial advertising because to do so could constitute a breach of freedom of expression.

"We would be subject to judicial review if we acted outside the rules," said Mr Goodman.

Mr Rabbitte’s office has received about 10 letters in recent weeks complaining about the ads — some from Oireachtas members.

He has responded by saying that people should address their concerns to the Department of Health.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik recently told the Seanad there needed to be an expansion of the remit of the ASAI so it could consider complaints about the type of advertising currently on display by Youth Defence.

"My concern is that there doesn’t appear to be any way for people to complain," Ms Bacik said.

"So I have written to the minister asking can we establish a route of complaint for individuals about these ads."

Socialist Party TD Clare Daly has also asked Mr Rabbitte to deal with what she described as "highly offensive and inaccurate youth defence advertisements".

Mr Rabbitte responded that his department "has informally raised the question of remit with the ASAI".

He said: "I am informed that they had considered the matter at an earlier juncture but decided against any attempt to extend their remit to cover non-commercial advertising on the grounds that any such measure could raise profound constitutional and freedom of expression issues."

"I understand that the ASAI intend to review their remit later this year, which offers all stake-holders the opportunity to engage with them on this difficult issue," Mr Rabbitte added.

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