Trócaire revise ads in face of BCI ban

BCI logoTrócaire have just posted a statement on their website, under the headline “BCI upholds its decision on Trócaire advert”, in which they say that they have agreed to revise their controversial radio and television advertisments:

Trócaire has been informed today by the BCI that it is confirming it’s initial decision in relation to Trócaire’s Lenten advertisement on gender equality, deeming that the campaign is toward a political end.

The BCI has proposed an amendment to the script of the broadcast as follows:
“Support Trócaire to help end gender inequality.”

The original script stated:
“Support Trócaire’s Lenten Campaign to help end gender inequality.”

Despite this change Trócaire is satisfied that the three elements of our Lenten campaign namely, fundraising, awareness raising and campaigning on UN Resolution 1325 [link] (including the online petition [link]) are still fully intact. All these activities continue as before.

In order to ensure a successful Lenten campaign Trócaire felt it had no option but to agree to this revised script.

Advertising is a central element in ensuring a successful Lenten campaign and the work of the organisation is hugely dependent on the success of the campaign.

It should be noted that RTÉ continues to carry Trócaire’s Lenten advertisements as originally submitted.

We believe the controversy generated by the BCI’s decision over the past week raises serious questions about this legislation and how it is interpreted.

We believe it is time for a full debate on the background and intentions of this legislation.

There is a danger that Trócaire and other organisations that advocate and campaign on issues of social justice will find their ability to do this work further constrained by the legislation in the future.

Trócaire believes a review of this legislation is urgently required.

The BCI ban of Trócaire’s original television and radio advertisments, discussed here earlier in the week, has provoked a predicatable storm of controversy. Mary Raftery argued strongly in yesterday’s Irish Times that the advertisment should have been broadcast (in its original form). Other Irish NGOs expressed their surprise at the BCI decision; Conor Lenihan, Minister of State for Overseas Development Assistance also described it as ‘surprising‘; and Michael D Higgins (Labour party TD) described the ban as incomprehensible (here, here, and here) and has promised a Private Members Bill to clarify the law in regard to the right of campaign groups to use radio and television advertising to promote their campaigns.

Lots of places have linked to the YouTube video of the original tv ad (eg Anthonymcg | Bloggorah | Damien Mulley | Duncan’s TV adland | IQblog | Lex Ferenda | Sigla (Sinéad Gleeson) | VoteTube | Zoomtard (with superb commentary)) and various places have audio of the original radio ad (Holy Shmoly (Donncha O’Caoimh) | Irish Eyes (Bernie Goldbach) | also here (mp3)).

Ciarán on Draw Breath has an excellent analysis of the background to the legislative prohibitions on political advertising; whilst Eddie McGarr puts the definition of ‘political’ into broader legislative context. Red Mum describes the BCI’s decision as ‘dreadful‘; and ask direct describes it as ‘utterly ridiculous’ and ‘outrageous’; whilst Bock the Robber, and Hugh Green on Most Sincerely Folks, and Duncan’s TV adland (again) each demonstrate the absurdity of the BCI’s reasoning on ‘political’.

It is unfortunate, to say the least, that it should have come to this. The BCI, who have banned the ad, and RTÉ Authority, who have declined to do so, are due to be merged (by the Broadcasting Bill, 2006) into a single regulator, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. Perhaps an amendment to this Bill, along the lines suggested by Michael D Higgins, would prevent the BAI replicating the BCI’s unfortunate attitude here.

Update (11 March 2007): The debate rumbles along. Have a look, for example, at the discussions on and indymedia ireland, to say nothing of the expanding outrage in the blogoshpere (eg All Smoke and Mirrors (JL Pango) | Daniel K Sullivan | Gerry Gainford | Green Ink | Life of Stretch (Neil Ward) | Politics in Ireland | Political Quote | Red Cardinal) as well as ciNews, picked up by the Holy Spirit Parish in Greenhills, Dublin. There has also been quite a bit of newspaper commentary:
Mark Rodden in the Irish Times: Trócaire agrees to revise Lenten advert
Patsy McGarry in the Irish Times: Trócaire’s young girl without a chance lives far closer to home
Breda O’Brien in the Irish Times: Not so fragile that ads need to be banned
Frank Khan in the Irish Independent: Aid group campaign goes on as disputed ad revised
Unattributed in the online version of the Irish Independent: Trocaire should have freedom of expression, even if they’re wrong
Emer O’Kelly in the Sunday Independent: Trendy Trocaire can’t be put above the rules
Ann Marie Hourihane in the Sunday Tribune: Trócaire turns being female into a ticking time bomb

Finally, although the prohibition on political advertising has long been criticised as paternalistic and wrong-headed (Tom Wright and Bairbre O’Neill, Irish Times, 21 January 2003), the BCI has nevertheless banned other political advertisments in the past. In December 2003, the BCI banned a radio ad for a book ‘A Farther Shore. Ireland’s Long Road to Peace’ (Amazon | Random House) by Gerry Adams (Bandon Books | BBC | Sinn Féin | wikipedia; on the ban, see here, and here (Irish Times, sub req’d)). Again, in June 2004, it banned one for an Irish Anti-War Movement/Stop Bush Campaign concert (see here, here, here, here (Irish Times, sub req’d), and here (ditto)). Moreover, religious advertisments have also been banned on foot of the same power (though RTÉ apparently does not regard broadcasting the Angelus as religious advertising). For example, in February 1999, the BCI’s predecessor, the IRTC, banned radio ads for the Irish Catholic newspaper (see here, and here), and the law was subsequently changed to exclude such ads from the scope of ban, though later Christmas advertisments for the ‘Irish Catholic’ ran afoul of both RTÉ and the BCI in 2002. A little earlier that year, in September 2002, the Power to Change campaign failed (also here, and here) in an attempt to compel RTÉ to run television advertisments (though, like Trócaire, they then amended the text to allow a watered-down version of the advertisement to be aired (see also here); on the campaign, see also here, here, here, and here (all Irish Times, sub req’d)). In October 2006, a radio advertisment for Sr Stanislaus Kennedy‘s book, ‘Stillness, Through My Prayers‘ ran into the same kind of hot water as that for Gerry Adams’ book (though Sr Stan’s advertisment was ultimately broadcast). Nevertheless, in January 2004, the Government (rather controversially) decided not to amend the ban on religious advertising.

Update (13 March 2007): This is just a roundup, for the sake of completeness, given how link-heavy this post has become, to archive links to various posts about the Trócaire box (Style Treaty | Ian O’Doherty (Irish Independent)) or the ban ( | Brightspark Consulting | Rinceoir | Stephen Spillane | Thomas Fitzgerald | TMCnet) or the issues raised in the ad (ask direct (again) and again, with a link to Trócaire’s 2006 ad on child labour on YouTube (also here) which – interestingly – used the same campaigning language but didn’t run into hot water with the BCI); Fr Micheal Kelly in the Rite and Reason column in the Irish Times Hasten the day when Aids no longer has a female face).

Update (15 March 2007): Both Cian Ginty on Blurred Keys, and Fergus Cassidy, write about a short piece in the Sunday Business Post, and Hugh Green follows up on Most Sincerely Folks (on newspapers quoting bloggers see Concurring Opinions). And Media Forum managed to navigate the BCI site to find the BCI’s press release on the matter, and to link to Fergus Finaly’s comments last year on the political advertising ban generally (a slightly extended version of the same speech is available here (thanks to Simon for the hat tip offblog, and congrats)), from which I learn that the BCC upheld a complaint against the Interim National Consumer Agency‘s advertising campaign against the Groceries Order (since repealed) on the grounds that it was a prohibited political advertisment.

Update (30 March 2007): Sarah Carey on GUBU had a typically perspicacious post on the issue on 19 March: Charity bitten by watchdog – sorry I missed it at the time, Sarah. A sample:

What we have here is a bad law, interpreted and implemented in a random manner. … That the BCI defines the term “political” very broadly would be bad enough, but it compounds the problem with inconsistency. …

The BCI and RTE can’t do much about the law, but they strike me as being a tad zealous in their application of it. … The BCI might take a heavy hand when implementing the law, but only if someone invites them to. It’s on this haphazard basis that the airwaves are being censored.

Shameless plug: If you’re interested in the legal background to the ban on political and religious advertising, have a look at my earlier post on the issue.