A couple of weeks ago, someone wrote in this column about the
dangers of censoring commercials such as the Rover ’hostage’ film.
In the UK, we live in the most censor-mad country in Western Europe -
for example, our film industry is regulated by an unelected body,
answerable to no-one, with a head who has no time limit on his tenure of
Major UK film-makers have to kow-tow to stop their movies being mauled
by philistines (in France this would be regarded as an act of
vandalism similar to cutting a piece out of the Mona Lisa).
Censors everywhere, of course, behave in the same manner, and continue
to act the way they do because people are too afraid of the likely
consequences of taking them on. In advertising, we have problems with
the BACC and the RACC. Their rulings are anachronistic, inconsistent and
frequently bizarre, and people in ad agencies are spending an absurd
amount of time involved in Alice-in-Wonderland-style negotiations with
them, almost always over pieces of work that, in 1997, wouldn’t offend a
maiden aunt. The upshot is that the weakest ideas (or work with no idea)
usually appear, because the current system mitigates in favour of dull
work and against interesting work.
There needs to be a body that protects the public from dishonest or
illegal advertising, that reacts to complaints from viewers, and is
able, like the Advertising Standards Authority, to distinguish the
genuine grievances from the rantings of a few nutcases. The BACC and
RACC system, however, operates on the assumption that if some people
might complain, it’s grounds for non-approval. They staff themselves
with too many inexperienced people and allows no effective appeal
against decisions which are frequently based on fear, internal politics,
power broking or downright stupidity - decisions that are often in
contravention of freedom of speech or the rights of our clients to do
It would be unfortunate if a big client one day decided to take the BACC
to court to assert its legal right to talk about its product truthfully
on the telly, but it’s bound to happen one day, unless the censors get
There could be a solution to all this, however. With Tim Mellors being
installed as the new president of D&AD, perhaps there’s an opportunity
for an independent body like D&AD, maybe alongside the IPA, to arbitrate
in disputes with the advisory bodies, educate them, and make suggestions
(such as a 9pm watershed applying to advertising as well as to the
programmes it interrupts). D&AD’s remit, after all, is to support and
encourage creative excellence, and nobody is doing more than the BACC to
interfere with that aim. How about it, Tim?
Send your rants (around 400 words, please) to Diary Editor, Campaign,
174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.