The ASA responds to His Grace
The ASA has kindly responded to His Grace (within the 48hr deadline requested), and they appear to have opted for Discursive Deflection Letter No.17b, which incorporates expressions of absolute vacuity patronisingly written in sentences of monosyllabic nothingness as though the recipient were a moron. It answers none of the eight questions asked, and merits a jolly good fisking:
RE: ASA Complaint Investigation - 192907/JT
Thank you for your email. I am writing to provide some further explanation as to why we contacted you about this ad, and how our process works.His Grace thanks you for that, but he has no questions about how your ‘process’ works. He simply asked why you chose to escalate this matter immediately to the level of ‘formal investigation’, and why you chose His Grace alone from the blogosphere to justify his decision to publish/distribute it. You answer neither question. And His Grace doesn’t like the tone of ‘I am writing to provide some explanation as to... how our process works’: he is neither five years old nor mentally deficient.
As you are aware we received a number of complaints about a Coalition for Marriage ad that appeared as advertising on your blog, among others, and some of the complaints related to whether or not the ad was offensive.Yes, His Grace is more than aware, thank you. He understands that you received 25 such complaints ‘including the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group’, and that 10 of these 25 deemed the ad to be ‘offensive and homophobic’. His Grace specifically asked you to define ‘homophobic’ in this context, but you appear now to be avoiding all mention of the term. It is actually quite important that you explain how the word is being used in this context, for he genuinely cannot understand how an advertisement which features heterosexual couples on their weddings days and which seeks to uphold the law of the land can be ‘offensive and homophobic’. Obviously, we need to agree epistemologically and etymologically on this term, or we risk talking at cross purposes. But perhaps those words have too many syllables for you.
You also informed His Grace of the involvement of the ‘Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group’, but they have categorically denied filing any such complaint. They subsequently modified that rebuttal, and are now apparently aware of one person who did complain, but not (they assert) on their behalf. Do you not check if an individual complainant is authorised to speak on behalf of the organisation he/she purports to represent? By mentioning this group in your correspondence, you elevate the status of the complaint significantly from one of a handful of sundry offended individuals to a whole organisation which may represent many thousands. This is clearly misleading. Have you not misrepresented the JGLG to all those who have received your bundle of ‘evidence’? Are you not in danger of inciting hatred or ill-feeling against this group with the false attribution of ‘homophobic’ grievance?
When we investigate complaints involving issues such as offence we seek the views of the publisher on why they think the ad was suitable for publication, and whether they think the complaints have merit.Not quite: you asked His Grace to justify himself, and you did so in an intimidating, threatening and harassing fashion. You say ‘we seek the views’, but the method and manner of that seeking ought to be polite and entreating (for publishers, as you now aver, are doing you a favour in giving their time). Instead, you made demands with menaces. And nowhere did you state that to respond is not obligatory. Indeed, the statement you have published on your website is disingenuous.
In this case, we contacted you as the ‘publisher’ of the ad, because it appeared on your website. We contact publishers because we find that they can often provide us with valuable context regarding ads. You are clearly well placed to know what the likely reaction of your readers will be to the ad from the Coalition for Marriage and their petition, and whether or not they are likely to find the ad offensive.Three blogs (to His Grace’s knowledge) carried this ad. If it so manifestly useful for you to seek the perspectives of publishers, why were all three blogs not asked to make submissions? Would that not have been fair and equitable? It is preposterous to suggest that a publisher would admit to distributing material which they know will offend their readers, not least because by making such an admission to the ASA they are potentially incriminating themselves and risk prosecution. Again, you are not answering the question of why His Grace alone was singled out. To acquire ‘valuable context’ is a laudable research objective which is best attained by maximising the pool of potential data: to restrict it to one blog is likely only to provide you with deeply flawed, biased and partial context.
So, please be reassured that we have sought your views on this so that we can take them into account when drafting a recommendation to the ASA Council in response to the complaints.Reassured? It's kind of you to enquire. But His Grace’s views on this ‘homophobic’ ad would most likely have been strongly supported by Guido Fawkes and ConservativeHome, who both have ready access to lawyers and £1000s to throw at their defence. Instead, you choose to isolate and harass. Surely the ASA Council would be more swayed and persuaded by blogs which are read and followed by 100,000s, instead of the lowly, insignificant blog written by His Grace?
Though we value your input, publishers are not compelled to respond to us. We have various examples of ASA rulings where publishers have responded and we have agreed with them, where we haven’t and where the publisher has declined to comment. If you do not wish to supply us with a view or correspond with us further on these issues we will simply let you know the outcome of the case, once it has concluded.Now this bit is interesting, for every sentence in your email and every page of the multiple attachments read very much like demands. There was never a hint of a suggestion that the recipient was not obliged to respond. Moreover, you imposed a deadline for that response. Even moreover, you added ‘at the latest’. And even moreover than that, you added: ‘...we will need to see robust documentary evidence to back the claims and a clear explanation from you of its relevance and why you think it substantiates the claims. It is not enough to send references to or abstracts of documents and papers without sending the reports in full and specifically highlighting the relevant parts explaining why they are relevant to the matter in hand’. Where did you ever state that ‘publishers are not compelled to respond’? Where was the option explained that this publisher may simply ignore you?
The statement now published on your website makes the same assertion, which has led to further harassment and criticism of His Grace. Could you please say WHERE you explained this, or give His Grace permission to publish all 9-10 pages of the attachments you sent so that others can make up their own minds on this matter? Do you not understand that an organisation calling itself an ‘Authority’, and which attaches a bundle of ‘evidence’ to corroborate allegations of hate/offense/harm is jolly threatening and intimidating? Do you not see that by omitting that crucial optional clause that you might harass publishers by making demands while actually having no legal authority to demand anything of anybody?
I also want to point out that the fact the ad is being investigated does not in any way mean that a decision has already been made regarding the complaint. We are gathering information and views and have not yet reached any conclusions. This is entirely in line with how we go about assessing many thousands of complaints about ads, every year.It really doesn’t help to state the obvious: an investigation should precede a judgment. But the interesting thing here is that you have given credence and substance to the merest possibility that pictures of heterosexual couples on their wedding days may be ‘offensive and homophobic’ by escalating this complaint to the level of ‘formal investigation’. This is quite patently preposterous, especially coming so soon after your losing the case of the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church in the High Court. Surely, even you must be able to work out that if ‘The word of God Against Sodomy’ advertisement is covered by Article 10 of the ECHR, a fortiori must be an advertisement which simply promotes marriage as a union of a man and a woman?
I hope this helps you to understand why we contacted you and asked you to respond. If you do wish to provide any comments regarding the ad we would be most grateful for them and would take them into account.Actually, to be perfectly frank, this helps His Grace with absolutely nothing. You have not answered a single question or addressed a single issue raised. That in itself is simply further harassment. One would think, since you are attempting to elicit ‘valuable insights’ and ‘valuable context’, that you might have addressed His Grace’s concerns directly, instead of deflecting and patronising as a strategy for obfuscating and defusing. But, again, perhaps that’s too many syllables for you.
His Grace will now consider whether he wishes to provide you with his comments regarding the advertisement. In the meantime, he asks, once more, out of exasperation, that you substantiate your published claim that: ‘...as we have made clear to them in this case, and they are not compelled to respond’. Where, precisely, was this made clear?
The Lord forgive you, for you plainly know not what you do.