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
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.