Wednesday June 19, 2024

Legal action likely as UK advertising body clears anti-Pak ad campaign

By Murtaza Ali Shah
December 04, 2017

LONDON: Three weeks after the Transport for London (TfL) apologised to Pakistan for inadvertently allowing anti-Pakistan posters campaign on its transport network, UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has defended its decision of clearing a wide-ranging adverts campaign in London targeting Pakistan.

The TfL and the ASA are at odds with each other with one saying that advertising rules were broken and the agency responsible to carry out due diligence defending its decision to save itself from a potential legal claim and Pakistan High Commission says it’s reviewing the ASA’s decision.

A source said that Pakistan High Commission will launch legal action against the ASA. The TfL removed all adverts from London cabs, licensed by TfL, but since then amended and original campaign has appeared on private-hired vans, billboards, motorways and high streets.

The TfL issued apology to Pakistan over the offensive campaign and Mike Brown MVO, the TfL’s Commissioner of Transport, said an internal inquiry had concluded that Pakistan’s legal position on the issue of “free Balochistan” adverts on London transport network was right and clear “advertising policy” breaches had been found on its part. The Commissioner for Transport said unfortunately the advertising policy was broken and “for that we apologise”. He added: “We have written to our advertising partners to remind them of their responsibilities in relation to our advertising policy.”

The TfL said that its rules were broken and it will not allow any new campaign on its network but the ASA says that adverts on London billboards and highways and major advertising sports are in line with its policy. The ASA claimed in a statement that the “Free Balochistan” ads “did not make a specific claim that threatened the territorial integrity or sovereignty of Pakistan”.

The ASA acknowledged that this issue “is a politically sensitive issue but also note that the advertiser has a right to express its views as long as the ad is in line with the advertising code. The ASA’s role is to assess what appears in the ad themselves, not to make broader judgement about the intent or political cause of an ad. As such, without making a judgment on the legitimacy of the cause being advertised, we consider the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence”.

It said that its Code 4.1 says that marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Marketers are urged to consider public sensitivities before using potentially offensive material. The fact that a product is offensive to some people is not grounds for finding a marketing communication in breach of the code,” it said.

The spokesman said: “We have made the High Commission of Pakistan aware of our ruling and the reasons why we came to this decision. We have also informed the High Commission that should they disagree with our ruling, there is a formal independent review process that they may request within 21 days of our notification date.

A spokesman for the Pakistan High Commission said that the ASA’s response has been received which is being reviewed. The spokesman said that further course of action will be announced soon. “It is an ongoing matter and we are in touch with the ASA,” he said.

Bahwal Mengal, son of Javed Mengal and nephew of Mehran Marri, who was recently banned by the Switzerland government from entering the country, is sponsoring the adverts campaign in London and leading it.