ASA response to ‘There definitely is a God’ complaint

Posted: February 24th, 2009 | Filed under: Politics | 2 Comments »

Like I’m sure many others did I filed a complaint with the ASA about the advert on London buses from The Christian Party.

Yesterday I received a letter:

Dear Mr Pouncey

Your complaint about The Christian Party

Thank you for your recent complaint.

It turns out that The Christian Party is a political party so I’m sorry to tell you that we’re unable to deal with the specific issues you raise: we’re unable to investigate complaints about advertising which aims to influence voters in elections or referendums. To do so would be to interfere with the democratic process. (The relevant clauses in our Code are 12.1 and 12.2 and you can find the Code at www.cap.org.uk).

The ASA Council has seen the ad and confirmed that because its primary purpose is to promote The Christian Party, it is electioneering material and therefore exempt from our Code.

You may be aware that there were similar bus ads appearing for the Trinitarian Bible Society (which stated “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Psalms 53.1″) and the Russian Orthodox Church (which stated “There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don’t worry and enjoy your life”). The ASA Council assessed these ads but concluded that both were likely to be seen as simply reflecting the opinions of the advertisers and were unlikely to mislead readers.

Although we will not be pursuing your complaint, thank you for taking the time to contact us.

I’m quite pleased about this response. I’d rather the balance be towards freedom of speech than not. I am curious about how far the exemption of political parties from scrutiny goes, and I plan to ask for more information on this.


2 Comments on “ASA response to ‘There definitely is a God’ complaint”

  1. 1 Keith Gilles said at 7:19 pm on March 26th, 2009:

    I got the same response and am not pleased with it at all. The claim that the ad was electioneering in laughable and illustrates the power of the religious lobby. The ASA response is cowardly and impotent and they should be replaced by a watchdog with teeth. I’ve pasted my reply from ASA and my response to it below.

    Keith Gilles
    Concerned Atheist.

    response to my complaint regarding the Christian Party bus advertisement claiming “There is a God” ASA response dated 20th February 2009 from ASA Complaints Executive Jodie Parsons.

    “Dear Mr Gilles

    Your complaint about the Christian Party

    Thank you for your recent complaint

    It turns out that that Christian Party is a political party so I’m sorry to tell you that we’re unable to deal with the specific issue you raise: we’re unable ot investigate complaints about advertising which aims to influence voters in elections or referendum. To do so would be to interfere with teh democratic process (the relevant clauses in our code are 12.1 and 12.2.

    The ASA council has seen the ad and confirmed that because it’s primary purpose is to promote the Christian Party, it is electioneering material and therefore exempt for our code.

    You may be aware that there were similar bus ads appearing for the Trinitarian Bible Society (which stated “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Psalms 53.1″) and the Russian Orthodox Church (which stated “There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don’t worry and enjoy your life”). The ASA Council assessed these ads but concluded that both were likely to be seen as simply reflecting the opinions of the advertisers and were unlikely to mislead readers.

    Although we will not be pursuing your complaint, thank you for taking the time to contact us.

    Yours sincerely

    Jodie Parsons
    Complaints Executive”

    Dear Ms Parsons,

    Many thanks for your reply.

    Your response if disappointing, was alas, expected. The Christian and other religious interest groups clearly have more influence than the atheist community and the ASA in this instance are clearly afraid to challenge the outrageous assertion by this advertisement and are regrettably another example of a waste of public money willing only to intervene in the most innocuous of cases.

    Your claim that the advertisement was primarily an election campaign is risible and frankly a cowardly cop-out. You are only too aware that this advertisement was a response to the earlier British Humanist Association advertisement on London Buses. You (the ASA) considered that the original advertisement by the BHA claiming “There isn’t a God” was too provocative which resulted in the word “probably” being used in the eventual advertisement. However, you do not find the assertion that “There is a God” should be worthy of the same treatment. Why? I and other fellow atheists find that statement extremely provocative and dangerous.

    Atheist pay taxes, contribute to society, have a voice and insist on equal treatment by organisations such as yours that are funded by the taxpayer to represent all.

    May I suggest that “it turns out” that the ASA need grow a backbone instead of looking for an ‘out’ where there is likely to be a backlash. That is what really intereferes with and undermines democracy.

    Keith Gilles.

  2. 2 Ian Pouncey said at 6:06 pm on March 27th, 2009:

    Hi Keith, thanks for sharing your reply.

    I’ll clarify my position – I agree with you in principle, but perhaps for different reasons. Part of the problem with the ASA is their remit. As their response states they are ‘unable to investigate complaints about advertising which aims to influence voters in elections or referendums’. It is difficult to argue that anything said by a political party is not intended to influence voters. Even with the best intentions they are hamstrung by this. I don’t see any difference between political campaigning and product advertising. Not holding political parties to account does, as you say, undermine democracy.

    To be fair on the ASA they are willing to stand up to wild religious claims as this article in the freethinker shows.

    What pleases me about the response is that I don’t take offense at the Christian Party campaign and freedom of speech is more important to me than my own opinion. This is an edge case. If you ignore the political implications then this is just a strongly worded statement of opinion, and I’m fine with that.

    Interestingly Ariane Sherine is on record as saying that she thinks that saying that there probably isn’t a God is fine, saying there definitely isn’t one is going to far.


Leave a Reply