ASA: No See, No Can Do

Many HonestReporting subscribers wrote complaints to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority after we reprinted a “Travel Palestine” ad in the National Geographic magazine. One complainant, however, sent us the ASA’s response to her complaint, part of which is below:

However I understand you were sent of copy of the ad by a third party.  The ASA bases its judgments on the content of the ad and also where it appeared and the likely audience.  We have to consider whether the ad was in breach of the Code we administer based on it being seen by the readers of the magazine in which it was actually published.  Therefore I’m afraid we can’t include complaints from people who we know have become aware of the ad via press coverage, internet discussions, e-mail forwards and the like rather than having seen it firsthand.

So let’s get this clear. A complaint will only be taken seriously if complainants have a copy of the aforementioned magazine in their own hands. And what standard of proof does the ASA require? Proof of purchase or a credit card statement containing evidence of a magazine subscription?

What does the ASA propose to do about online articles that are forwarded or go viral and can be viewed by millions?

Or is this simply a ploy by the ASA to silence “third parties” i.e. watchdog organizations such as HR?

When it comes to newspapers, magazines and online material, we can’t expect you to see everything that requires a robust response. That’s our job to alert you. But articles and adverts that you haven’t seen will be having some impact irrespective of whether or not you were the one to see them.

Why is it any less legitimate to be concerned by content that you were alerted to and saw on HonestReporting as opposed to the same content in physical magazine form?

But more importantly – either the ad is true or not and that certainly doesn’t depend on where it is published. Shouldn’t that be the primary concern of the ASA?

We await the verdict of the ASA’s investigation into the Palestinian tourism ad although we do wonder whether all of the accepted complaints were from National Geographic subscribers.