ASA adjudication on the Coalition for Marriage Ltd
In the troubling case of Sundry Anonymous vs. Coalition for Marriage Ltd, the ASA finds the defendant 'Not Guilty'. The timing is good, for today is the last chance to express an opinion to HM Government in the matter of their decision to redefine the institution of marriage (click ad up right). Here is the judgment report in its entirety:
ASA Adjudication on Coalition For Marriage Ltd
Date: 13 June 2012
Media: Internet (display), Magazine, National press
Number of complaints: 26
Complaint Ref: A12-192907
Four ads for the campaigning group Coalition for Marriage:
a. A press ad, seen in Country Life Magazine, featured photos of couples on their wedding day. The ad stated "’I do’ 70% of people* say keep marriage as it is. We agree: politicians should not be meddling with one of our great national institutions. 190,000 people have signed our petition in favour of keeping the definition of marriage unchanged. Whilst fully recognising the rights and views of others, we're asking you to support us. If you want to keep the true meaning of marriage as it is, and has been for thousands of years, say ‘I do’ - by signing our petition at c4m.org.uk PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION visit c4m.org.uk today ... Coalition for Marriage". Small print stated "(*Source: ComRes poll for Catholic Voices)".
b. The ad was the same as ad (a), and was seen in the Daily Telegraph.
c. An online ad, seen on the blog of 'Archbishop Cranmer', featured photos of couples on their wedding day on the first frame. The second frame stated "I do". The third frame stated "70% of people* say keep marriage as it is ... (Source: ComRes poll for Catholic Voices)". The final frame stated "Help us keep the true meaning of marriage. PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION Click here ... Coalition for Marriage".
d. The ad was the same as ad (c), and was seen on blog of 'Guido Fawkes'.
1. Twenty-four complainants challenged whether the claim "70% of people say keep marriage as it is" in ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) was misleading and could be substantiated.
2. Eleven complainants objected that ads (a) and (c) were offensive.
3. Three complainants objected that ad (a) was misleading, as they did not believe it made clear that the aim of the online petition was to oppose same sex marriage. CAP Code (Edition 12) 188.8.131.52.1
1. Coalition for Marriage said the poll on which the claim was based was carried out by ComRes, who were a well-known and reputable polling company used by many sources. They said the poll asked whether "marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman". They provided a link to the full poll results, and said they did not believe it was misleading to base the claim "70% of people say keep marriage as it is" on the answer to this question. They pointed out that the question referred to "continue" and "defined" and said these meant the question related to whether the definition of marriage should be kept as it is, and not widened. They said the existence of other polls on the issue of gay marriage were not relevant, and that readers were free to make up their own mind about the opinions behind the polling figures. They pointed out that the ads stated clearly the source for the polling figure and that the poll was commissioned by Catholic Voices.
2. Coalition for Marriage did not believe the ads contained anything that was likely to cause offence. They said that pictures of happy couples on their wedding day appeared regularly in the media, and that the rest of the ad merely contained further information about their campaign. They said the aim of the ad, and their campaign, was to defend the definition of marriage enshrined in UK law as it had existed for hundreds of years. They believed those complaining were intolerant of opposing views. They believed the ads were an upbeat, warm-hearted presentation that simply endorsed the longstanding, globally accepted legal definition of marriage.
Country Life said their magazine covered a diverse range of subjects and they were not afraid to put forward a point of view or encourage debate. They said they accepted ad (a) because, in their opinion, it was simply an organisation's point of view and in theory no different to any other campaigning ad, about which there would always be differing opinions. They said they had received a small number of complaints from people who felt the ad was offensive but did not believe all had been from people who were actually readers. They said it was not their intention to cause offence and they welcomed all readers, whatever their point of view.
'Archbishop Cranmer' did not believe that ad (c) would be seen as offensive or homophobic. He pointed out that it merely featured pictures of photos of couples on their wedding day and a quotation from the marriage liturgy, and did not believe any rational or reasonable person would find this offensive.
3. Coalition for Marriage did not believe the ad was likely to mislead readers as to the purpose of the petition. They believed that asking people to sign to show their support for the current legal definition of marriage explicitly signalled objection to same sex marriage. They believed anyone signing the petition would be aware of the current political debate around marriage. They also pointed out that the ads directed people to their website to sign the petition, and that more information about their campaign and the current political debate about same sex marriage was available there.
1. Not upheld
The ASA noted that Coalition for Marriage based the claim "70% of people say keep marriage as it is" on a poll carried out by ComRes for Catholic Voices, and this was clearly stated in the ads. The question asked in the poll was whether respondents agreed with the statement "Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman" and 70% said they did. The poll related to an online panel of 2004 people, and the data had been weighted to be representative of the general population. Although some complainants believed the claim made in the ads was misleading because it did not reflect the results of other polls on the issue of same sex marriage, we considered the claim accurately represented the responses received to the poll conducted by ComRes and that the source for the claim was sufficiently prominent to ensure that those viewing the ad would be aware that it referred to the results of that poll only. Most people would expect polls relating to matters of opinion to lead to differing results depending on the exact wording of the question and the context in which it was asked. Also, the ad stated on which poll the claim was based and who had commissioned it. Finally, the poll was publically available on the ComRes website. We concluded that the claim was not misleading,
On this point we investigated ads (a), (b), (c) and (d) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation) but did not find them in breach.
2. Not upheld
We noted the complainants believed that ads (a) and (c) were offensive as they considered them to be homophobic. However, the ads focused on the current legal definition of marriage and its history. We considered that, although some people might disagree with the advertisers' opinions on the matter of same sex marriage, the ads in themselves did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.
On this point we investigated ads (a) and (c) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence) but did not find them in breach.
3. Not upheld
The ad appeared in the context of a high-profile public debate around the issue of same sex marriage. We considered that readers seeing the ad would infer from the references to keeping marriage "as it is" that Coalition for Marriage were opposed to same sex marriage and that this was the purpose of the petition. The petition was on Coalition for Marriage's own website, which contained further information about their campaign. Therefore, we concluded the ad was unlikely to mislead readers about the aim of the online petition.
On this point we investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising) but did not find it in breach.
Action: No further action necessary.
His Grace is pondering whether their 'No further action necessary' accords with his own judgment. For a response has been received to the FoI request concerning Lord Smith's shifting declarations of interest, for it appeared as though his had been amended specifically at the time that the complaint against the Coalition for Marriage was brought in order to disclose that he was Vice President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. On 23rd May, the following was sent to the ASA:
Dear Advertising Standards Authority,On 6th June, they made the following response:
This is a follow-up to my previous request for a copy of the Council Members' Register of Interests, which you provided very promptly and for which I thank you.
I note that all of the entries, except one, are dated March 2012 and either show "no change", were updated on that date or were new on that date. The exception is the entry for Chris Smith, which is dated May 2012.
Please could you, therefore, let me know what has changed on Chris Smith's entry since March.
Dear MarkHis Grace finds this disingenuous, if not deceitful. Is the ASA really saying, in the 21st century, that they have no means of knowing what a document contained prior to an update? If amendments are made by means of paper forms, there will be an audit trail. If they are carried out online, there will be electronic footprints. If changes are made by email correspondence, these are easily traceable. It is, frankly, inconceivable that the ASA do not know what Lord Smith's declarations were prior to May 2012, not least because he himself must know what changes he made. Unless, of course, they have something to hide...
Thank you for your reply. I am sorry about the delay in responding to you.
Further to your query, all ASA Council members and the Chairman update their Register of Interests on an annual basis. They can be updated at any point, however. We do not keep a record of what was added when, we just ask that Council and the Chairman keep them in order.
Advertising Standards Authority