High Court rules in ASA’s favour as editorial-ad distinction blurs

Advertising watchdogs have won a legal victory in their battle to police a rapidly changing media scene.

Advertising watchdogs have won a legal victory in their battle to

police a rapidly changing media scene.



It came as the High Court last week threw out a claim that the

Advertising Standards Authority had exceeded its jurisdiction.



Now lawyers believe the failure of the application for a judicial review

- and the awarding of costs to the ASA - has considerably strengthened

its power to define what constitutes advertising.



The legal action followed the appearance of an ad for Trago Mills

shopping centres in the West Briton newspaper alongside a column

containing the outspoken views of Charles Robertson, the centres’

owner.



The column called for the castration of homosexuals who preyed on small

children and slammed Tony Blair for ’allowing a free vote on legalising

sodomy for children of 16’.



The ASA ordered that the ad should not be repeated, ruling that it was

offensive and could incite violence against gays. Robertson urged the

court to overturn the ruling, claiming his column did not form part of

the ad and that the ASA had exceeded its powers.



But judges rejected his plea, saying that the closeness of the column to

the promotional text meant it was part of the ad and subject to the

ASA’s control.



The verdict is a major boost for the ASA, whose executives have become

increasingly alarmed about the blurring of advertising and editorial and

the difficulty of knowing what lies within its remit.



The rule-making Committee of Advertising Practice has been particularly

concerned about whether magazines produced by companies to attract new

customers are pieces of advertising or editorially independent.



’This is a very significant decision because it goes to the heart of

what the ASA is about,’ Philip Circus, the Newspaper Society’s

advertising law consultant, said.



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