OPINION: ASA is right to see off the hypocrites

Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for the Advertising Standards Authority. Last week it was the turn of some kneejerk-reactive MPs and political lobbyists trying to use the ASA for some cheap publicity.

Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for the Advertising Standards

Authority. Last week it was the turn of some kneejerk-reactive MPs and

political lobbyists trying to use the ASA for some cheap publicity.



As usual, the ASA was cast as the scapegoat. If it wasn’t being bashed

up for failing to curb the activities of rogue cosmetic surgeons, it was

being blatantly exploited by Eurosceptics for PR mileage.



The week’s events confirmed what the ASA already knows well enough; that

its task is often thankless and that there are still many that would

drag it into areas beyond its remit or competence. This is especially

true of politicians whose willingness to castigate the ASA’s performance

while trying to subvert it for their own purposes at election time is

hypocrisy beyond belief.



So the ASA’s decision to evoke the opt-out clause in new rules which

safeguard it from being used as a political shuttlecock is to be

welcomed.



Not least because it may help some minds around the Palace of

Westminster understand more clearly what the ASA can and should police

and what should be the responsibility of others.



Dr Peter Brand, the Liberal Democrat’s health spokesman, is one who

can’t make the distinction. How else to explain his preposterous

diagnosis that misleading ads for cosmetic surgery call the ASA’s entire

performance into question. Would Brand, a qualified surgeon, amputate

the leg of a patient with a septic toe? The answer is as obvious as not

expecting the ASA to make judgments about whether the claims of cosmetic

surgery clinics are justified when the responsibility for this lies with

the Department of Health.



Similar arguments can be applied in the case of the row over the ad

claims of supporters and opponents of the single European currency. The

ASA has rightly not risen to the bait of the anti-European Democracy

Movement - formerly James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party - which has

called into question the impartiality of Lord Rodgers, the ASA’s Liberal

Democrat chairman. Worse, it said it would not be bound by any ASA

ruling - a threat that’s unlikely to cause anybody to lose sleep.



Thankfully, political parties and lobbyists will no longer get free

publicity rides on the ASA’s back. Just as it can’t be expected to judge

medical claims, so it is in no position to rule on the veracity of

politicians’ election time mud-slinging. That’s for the voters. And if

they don’t like the sell they won’t buy the product.



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