Scientology Advert – within the rules

22nd May 2014

A Scientology advertisement unusually attracted some attention on Twitter last week from some viewers who were surprised to see such an ad on tv. I say unusually because the Church of Scientology has been advertising on television on and off for many years now, certainly since rules allowing religions to advertise were first introduced in the late 1980s.


So perhaps now is a good moment to canter through the Religious advertising part of the BCAP Code, which is written by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice and is the code against which we check ads before approving them for broadcast.


Religions wishing to advertise must comply with the rules set out in the BCAP Code. These rules cover for instance the requirement that advertisements must identify the advertiser and the faith if it is not obvious from the treatment. Also, no television advertisement may expound doctrines or beliefs unless they are broadcast on channels whose editorial content is wholly or mainly concerned with matters of religion.


Other rules within the religious section of the code do not allow for religions to refer to any alleged consequences of a faith or a lack of a faith, nor may advertisements denigrate the beliefs of others.


Also, religious advertisers may not appeal for funds except for charitable purposes. Moreover such advertisements seeking donations may not imply that respondents will receive spiritual benefits in return for a donation.


As BCAP says in an introduction to this section of the code, “These rules seek to strike a balance between freedom of speech and the prevention of advertising that could be harmful.” Each ad is checked very carefully by our copy clearance team and in the case of the recent Scientology ad, we had no concerns that it was breaking BCAP’s rules.


The ASA have subsequently said that it had carefully considered viewer complaints but decided there were no grounds for further action.


The watchdog said it did understand that some viewers might find the ad in poor taste because they disapproved of the beliefs and practices of Scientologists and because they believed religious ads should not be broadcast on TV.


But they added: “The Advertising Code does not prohibit ads for religious organisations from being broadcast on channels [such as ITV].


“The ad itself did not contain either explicit statements of belief or incitements for viewers to change their own beliefs, and only included the advertisers’ website address, and so was unlikely to breach the Code for these reasons.”

By Peter Johnson, Copy Group Manager at Clearcast


Save The Children

13th May 2014

The Clear View – Save the Children


Every Wednesday the ASA publish their adjudications on the complaints they have investigated. In fact far more ads are complained about than investigated, with the ASA reviewing each complaint to determine whether there may have been a breach of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code).


Of the weekly adjudications, a small number will relate to TV ads that have been cleared by us. Last week the ASA announced a decision on an ad by the Save the Children Fund. The ad, which featured an African woman giving birth and received over 600 complaints, largely for it’s shocking nature, wanted to convey the statistic that one million babies die on their first day. Despite the large number of complaints, the ASA decided not to uphold those complaints.


Charity ads are the subject of regular debate at Clearcast, because by their nature they will often be upsetting and potentially offensive. But of course we have to balance this with the fact that they’re made for a good cause and need to have an impact if they’re to generate a response from viewers.


The ad made by Adam & Eve/DDB was always going to be controversial as it went further than has previously been seen on television, but we felt that despite the subject matter it was made tastefully and avoided showing the more graphic aspects of childbirth.


We work hard to try and ensure we make the right clearance decisions and once they are made we defend them against complaints. It’s always satisfying when we successfully defend our decisions and an ad stays on air, and particularly so when we have defended an ad that has generated so many complaints. The ASA aren’t influenced by the number of complaints and it’s reassuring that they agreed with our rationale for approving the ad.


The result is that a powerful and effective ad stays on the air with the post-21:00 timing restriction we sensibly gave it. This decision sets a useful precedent for other charities and their agencies to gauge what kind of envelope-pushing content would be acceptable to the regulator.


Seb Lynch, Copy Development Manager at Clearcast


Read the full Save the Children adjudication on the ASA website.