Advertising Standards Bureau - Exit common sense

On the 26th of November, the Australian   (ASB) dismissed complaints against Exit International's billboard advertising campaign that ran in Sydney.Advertising Standards Bureau

Exit International billboard, courtesy WikipediaThe billboard, white writing on purple background, displayed the text: 85% of Australians Support Voluntary Euthanasia.  Our Government Doesn't!  Make them Listen.

The ASB received a number of complaints, some focussed, others expressing a more general sense of outrage.  A number made the suggestion that the claims made were misleading (more on that later).  A large number focussed more directly on the problem with promoting suicide.

Australia has a significant problem with youth suicide in particular.  Australian media and those working with children and young people are extremely sensitive about the mention or portrayal of suicide in any manner.  Any television program that contains even a remote connection bears a warning and also the contact details for support organisations such as Life Line or Beyond Blue in the credits.  But television advertising is covered by a different code of practice, administered by a different agency, Free TV Australia.

In September this year, Free TV upheld a complaint against an Exit television commercial that featured an actor playing a dying man.  In its statement, Free TV commented: The Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice states that material which promotes or encourages suicide will invariably be unsuitable for television.

Image from the pro-euthanasia TV ad that was banned by FreeTV Australia..In October Free TV refused to allow a different television commercial by Dying with Dignity Victoria that, whilst obviously visual, made virtually the same point as the Exit billboard.  They commented that: Realistic depiction of methods of suicide, or promotion or encouragement of suicide is unsuitable for broadcast.  Also adding that it: could reasonably be argued that the advertisement promotes or encourages voluntary euthanasia.  This is because the advertisement seeks to de-stigmatise, normalise and legalise voluntary euthanasia.

Free TV Australia made the appropriate connection between public advertising on euthanasia and suicide, even going so far as to suggest that advertising about euthanasia itself was ipso facto unsuitable for broadcast.

The ASB, in complete contrast adjudged that the Exit advertisement was, "not encouraging or condoning suicide, rather it is encouraging the lobbying of Government on the issue of euthanasia."  The ASB Board added that the advertisement did not breach section 2.6 of the Code in that it did not depict 'material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety.'

The ASB dismissed out of hand complaints that the Exit billboard was misleading.  The Board determined, in the first instance, that the complaints received related to section 2 of the Code (in particular section 2.6 mentioned above).  Defying logic, the judgment then goes on to refer to the complaints in respect to 'truth and accuracy of the quoted statistics' concluding that such claims are 'not within section 2 of the Code, and is therefore an issue which the Board cannot consider when making its determination.'  This is rather like saying: an apple is not an orange; oranges are a fruit; therefore an apple is not a fruit.  Utter nonsense!

Section 1.2 of the Code says that: Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not be misleading or deceptive or be likely to mislead or deceive.  While it would need to be proven for the sake of the complaint, it is very clear that even though the polls referred to did return a result of 85% for the proposition, the claim that this translates into 85% approval of euthanasia is false.  At best, it could only be claimed that those polled agreed with the proposition, however, the poll question does not describe euthanasia as it is practiced or euthanasia as proposed in any particular legislative form.

This brings us to the claim that the material in the billboard did not contravene 'Community Standards'.  The ASB reserves unto itself the right to define such standards.  However, the very fact that euthanasia remains illegal in every Australian state and territory should play a very large part in any determination of standards.  But not according to the ASB it seems.  It is also naive in the extreme to blandly propose that the billboard in question was about 'encouraging the lobbying of Government on the issue of euthanasia'.  Exit's strategy, like that of every euthanasia lobby in Australia, is to beat the public about the head with the 85% quote until we all accept the inevitable, get out of their way and let them have what they want.  Apparently advertising people don't understand advertising and propaganda!