ASA v. Coalition for Marriage Ltd (2012)
His Grace has today responded to the ASA in their investigation of the Coalition for Marriage advertisement.
Dear Investigations Executive,
Further to His Grace’s previous email of 14th May, to which you responded answering none of his questions because, you aver, they ‘go beyond (his) involvement in this case’. And further to his subsequent email of the 16th, to which you responded with an apology for the ‘confusion or upset’ you have caused, and an admission of error for failing to mention that you had no authority to make any demands upon him, he is pleased to respond to your investigation thus:
It appears that the Advertising Standards Authority is no longer solely concerned with sales promotional advertising. Further, you now manifestly push a standard which ranges from mediocre to middling, and you fail to realise that you are an ordinary limited company with absolutely no legal authority whatsoever. In light of this, you ought to initiate a formal investigation into your own harassing misrepresentation of your powers and misleading trade description.
By choosing to investigate a promotional campaign which sought merely to uphold the traditional view of marriage, it is clear that you have expanded your remit to incorporate the promotion of political causes and ideas, which the CAP Code states specifically is excluded from the scope of your competence, except where they are ‘direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising’. That is manifestly not the case with the Coalition for Marriage advertisement: the only direct solicitation was for people’s signatures upon a petition. That the campaign is political is in no doubt, because HM Government have decreed it so by their decision to investigate those schools which advocate support of the marriage petition, which a minister has referred to as ‘political campaigning’. Your decision to investigate the complaint with threats and menaces, contra your own online remit, constitutes bullying, harassment and intimidation, which amounts to censorship of the cause for the retention of traditional marriage and the idea that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.
By sending out ‘complaint’ papers which demand responses with such phrases as ‘We require you to respond...’ and ‘we will need to see robust documentary evidence to back the claims and a clear explanation from you of its relevance’; and by doing so with demands to answer your questions by a certain deadline with threats of punitive action for non-compliance, you fraudulently convey an excess of power and claim an authority which you do not, in law, possess. You impress upon the recipient that you are the superior moral agent, and that submission and obeisance are the only appropriate response. Authority which is exerted without right is an illegitimate use of power; illegitimate authority is tyranny; and tyranny leads to injustice, which can have no authority at all. By abusing your self-certified power and self-authenticated authority for the perpetuation of an image of your self-integrity, you deny all authority. You ought to rename yourselves the Political Substandard Tyranny.
Your treatment of His Grace has been mendacious, oppressive, and partisan. This has only become apparent as he refused to comply with your demand to keep all correspondence confidential. How many others have been intimidated, harassed and bullied into submission by you as they suffered in silence, fearful of the consequences of disclosure?
Your treatment is mendacious because you now know that your one identified complainant, the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group, did not register any complaint at all. Yet you chose to validate that alleged complaint by disseminating it without exercising due diligence, and so your lie is deliberate. Your claims of other unnamed complainants are thus tainted. Your recent claim (published on 15th May upon your website) that you were seeking His Grace’s voluntary assistance and ‘have made clear’ that he is ‘not compelled to respond’ is not supported by the facts. Not least because this was only ‘made clear’ in your second email to him (which was received at 5.40pm on 15th May). Indeed, it appears that your second email was sent solely to permit you to be able to claim publicly on your website on the same day that you ‘have made clear’ that there is no compulsion to respond. This is not merely mendacious; it is manipulative, which is further harassment.
Your treatment of His Grace is oppressive because you appear to claim the authority of the British Government, the Office of Fair Trading and of the Courts to demand his personal reasons for supporting the English laws regulating marriage. You selected him alone from the blogosphere for this intimidation when larger and more powerful entities had also promoted the same advertisement. And your treatment of His Grace is partisan because, through your decision to escalate to ‘formal investigation’ sundry vexatious and invented complaints, and by your unlawful threats made with reference to the Courts and other available sanctions, you have sought to punish his support of a cause, which has become political, and his commitment to an idea, which is moral. Your Agency is charged with ensuring truth in advertising, not with advancing a political agenda by suppressing the free debate that underpins our democracy.
That your Chairman is also Vice President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality is not without significance in this case. If Lord Smith of Finsbury were (permitted to be) on the Board of Sainsbury’s, and the ASA had taken the decision to investigate Tesco over scurrilous allegations of some ‘offence’ caused to 10 anonymous complainants, one of whom was the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Friends of Sainsbury’s, the impartiality, reliability and validity of your investigation would be fatally undermined, and justice could not result. Since you are determined to enter into the political arena and make judgments about advertising which seeks simply to uphold the tradition view that marriage is heterosexual, Lord Smith must either resign as Chairman of the ASA or as Vice President of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. There can be no actual and must be no apparent conflict of interests in his functioning, because it is increasingly evident that certain people desire to prevent others from voicing reasonable moral and moderate political opinions and are prepared to use state and quasi-state agents to achieve their illiberal ends.
Finally, to your specific questions relating to the Coalition for Marriage advertisement which is deemed by 10 people, including (you insist) The Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group, is ‘offensive’ and ‘homophobic’. You attached four screenshots taken from His Grace’s blog, apparently from his post of 12th April. You have specified that he is not required to respond to any allegations of ‘inaccuracy’ which relate to the poll research, and, presumably, since the final frame is merely an invitation to sign a petition, there is nothing to respond to or justify on that frame either. So, you are concerned to hear from him on the allegation that this:
are ‘offensive and homophobic’, despite your unreasonable refusal to respond to his utterly reasonable request to know how the term ‘homophobia’ is being used in this context, which request you insist goes ‘beyond (his) involvement in this case’. His Grace responds as follows:
The first of these frames, as you observe in your Complaint Notification and is evident above, ‘featured photos of couples on their wedding day’. His Grace is at a loss to understand how a montage of (apparently) happy couples of (apparently) complementary genders on their wedding days may be in any sense ‘offensive and homophobic’. Since such scenes are played out at hundreds of churches and registry offices all over the country throughout the year every year, and since the BBC was free to broadcast the wedding of HRH Prince William (male) to Catherine Middleton (female) without incurring allegations of ‘homophobia’, it is difficult to discern how this frame may be considered in any sense ‘offensive’. Further, taking ‘homophobia’ in the vernacular (that is, an expression of ‘hatred’ towards homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered, as opposed to the fear of man or the same gender), if it may constitute ‘hatred’ of homosexuals to publish and distribute images of heterosexual couples on their wedding days, His Grace would like to know how the 10 complainants even know that all these couples are, in fact, the gender they appear. It is eminently possible that some of these brides are men in drag, and he would have thought that the LGBT community (especially the Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group) really ought to be admiring of the quality of transexualism and/or transvestitism which may be evidenced.
The second frame of ‘evidence’ you adduce simply states ‘I do’. On this point, His Grace concurs wholeheartedly, for this is indeed a term most offensive. His Grace was author of the Anglican marriage liturgy approved by Parliament and he specifically employed the phrase ‘I will’, not ‘I do’. ‘I do’ is an inadequate affirmation of the present instant and quite inferior to the emphatic future continuing ‘I will’. So, yes, this frame is most offensive. But, again, His Grace is at a loss to discern how it may be construed as ‘homophobic’.
And yet he is 'required' to respond to these allegations under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).
It ought to be obvious to any objective, reasonable person, and also to any rational, impartial organisation, that a set of wedding photographs and a quotation from the marriage liturgy cannot possibly be offensive to any reasonable or rational person. They are only deemed to be so by those whose agenda is acutely political. The fact that you subjectively and unreasonably chose to escalate their complaints to the level of ‘formal investigation’ constitutes an intimidating attempt to encroach on the freedom of speech. That you identified the specific (non-)complaint of The Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group suggests deficiencies in your due diligence and inadequacies in your judgments. These complaints ought to have been summarily dismissed as frivolous, vexatious and malicious.
The conduct of the ASA in this matter has been unreasonable and unjust. You need to develop a considerably higher threshold as to what may be reasonably considered sufficiently offensive to warrant any investigative effort on your part, especially when that offence is allegedly ‘homophobic’.
His Grace hopes you find the above response more beneficial than that received from Private Eye in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram.