Complaints Reports

Television Advertising Complaints Reports

These reports are case summaries of complaints which appeared to raise issues of substance in relation to the interpretation of the ITC Advertising Standards Code. Summary statistics of non-substantive complaints can be found in the full reports which are obtainable from the ITC.

MORRIS CERULLO RALLY

Complaint from: 1 viewer

Background

The Christian Channel showed a 28 minute advertisement for a religious rally in London’s Earl’s Court featuring the American evangelist, Morris Cerullo. (The advertisement fell within the ITC’s definition of “Home Shopping” which permits certain long advertisements.) The advertising showed social problems which the presenter suggested were caused by a lack of Christian standards in society. The viewer objected that the advertising distorted historical and political truth and was offensive and detrimental to some groups in society.

Assessment

) Rule 10 of the ITC’s Advertising Code states that “No advertisement may show partiality as respects matters of political......controversy or relating to current public policy” and “no advertisement may be directed towards any political end”. A number of scenes in the advertising raised issues in relation to this rule.

a) There were criticisms of changes to UK marriage and divorce law, accompanied by the allegation that the result had been “millions of blighted children”. The presenter suggested that “Weak spiritual leaders have given way, without protest, to insidious rationalist laws set to undermined family life”.

b) There were emotive references to the controversial issue of abortion. These included “unborn babies burnt.....or used for experimentation” and “over 5 million babies....end their short lives in furnaces”.

c) The presenter alleged that “Alien forces have conquered the heartlands of Europe...which were once the hub of Christian civilisation”. He also stated that “Satanic hordes have occupied the principal palaces of power”. This comment was accompanied by shots of various centres of European government including the UK parliament.

The Christian Channel argued that Rule 10 did not apply because it is “aimed at advertisements which are political in nature, ie. seeking.....to bring political change”. They suggested that this advertising simply encouraged Christians to come to a conference “where they can learn how to pray more effectively to see Godly principles applied in our nation and the nations.”

The ITC did not agree that the comments were impartial. The rule is intended to prevent any advertising being used to promote particular political ideas or to encourage viewers to take sides on controversial issues. (Political advertising is prohibited by the Broadcasting Act 1990 and legal advice has consistently indicated that this must be interpreted in a broad sense).

The ITC concluded that none of the above elements of the advertising complied with Rule 10.

2) Rule 16 of the Advertising Code says that “Advertisements must not, without justifiable reason, play on fear”.

The advertising alleged that “Demonic forces have engineered control of every major source of communication from media to education”. The presenter also stated that “The media......is held captive by demonic powers and has become the insidious mouthpiece of an anti-Christian culture.”

The Christian Channel argued that neither these comments nor the extracts quoted in section (1) above breached Rule 16. It suggested that they were simply “an encouragement to Christians to come to the conference and learn why these are not matters to fear” because “the Bible teaches that Jesus gave authority over demonic forces to Christians”.

The ITC did not accept this defence. It concluded that all the extracts risked causing viewers, and in particular more impressionable or vulnerable viewers, to be fearful of the alleged developments in politics and the media.

3) Rule 13 states that no advertising may “be offensive to public feeling [or] prejudice respect for human dignity".

In the advertisement, homosexuality was described as “an abomination” and the presenter commented that “Today, homosexual men and women hold some of the highest offices”. The clear implication was that only heterosexuals are fit to do so. The ITC was concerned that this was likely to be grossly offensive to homosexual viewers and to those who would not consider homosexuality to be either an abomination or a bar to high office. The Christian Channel said they would regret any offence caused but suggested that, “as the Christian beliefs on homosexuality are quite clear, it would be unlikely that many homosexuals would be watching”. The ITC did not accept that there were reasonable grounds for assuming there would be few homosexual viewers. It concluded that the remarks were likely to be hurtful and offensive and, in any case, were prejudicial to homosexual people. They therefore breached Rule 13.

4) The ITC’s special rules for religious advertising make clear that it must no denigrate other faiths or philosophies. (Appendix 5, Rule 8). The ITC was concerned on those grounds about some aspects of the advertising. The Christian Channel stated that “it was not the intention....to mock or put down what other people believe in but rather to encourage Christians that they need to be active in their faith”. The ITC, however, concluded that the following elements of the advertising denigrated other faiths or philosophies and were not acceptable:

a) “Alternative religious practices” were disparaged and their growth presented negatively as “a flood tide”. This was illustrated by shots of worshipers engaging in their chosen services.

b) The presenter criticised other Christian groups by saying “There appears to be a death-wish on the lips of many spiritual leaders who have lost hope of ever retrieving their people from the unending pursuit of materialism in an age which even they have come to believe is post-Christian”.

c) More generally, there were denigrating references to rationalist, atheist and humanist beliefs and philosophies.

The ITC had previously issued formal warnings to the Christian Channel for breaches of ITC Programme Code rules. (These cases were reported in the ITC’s Programme Complaints and Interventions Reports for May 1996 and January, February/March and December 1998).

The Christian Channel finally accepted that the advertising breached ITC rules but assured the ITC that there had been formal training of relevant staff in compliance procedures. The Channel thought that “the root of the error was....that the Channel is overwhelmingly viewed by committed Christians or intense sympathisers all of whom would be unafraid and unoffended by what they heard and saw”. It said that “......in certain circumstances.....difficulties do arise in the reconciliation of Christian teaching and faith with the need for balanced regulation.....”.

Conclusion

The ITC upheld the complaint and instructed the Christian Channel not to broadcast the material again. In the light of the previous breaches of ITC rules by the Christian Channel, the ITC imposed a financial penalty of £20,000.