Cranmer vs ASA – How very dare you!

As a general rule of thumb anything that winds up Cranmer is usually a good thing so it’s with some amusement that I have report that 24 people including a ‘Jewish Gay and Lesbian group’ have reported his blog to the Advertising Standards Authority over an advert he ran on behalf of the ‘Coalition For Marriage’.

So far as the substance of these complaints are concerned, the advert included a claim that ‘70% of people say keep marriage as it is’ giving the source of this claim as poll conducted by ComRes on behalf of Catholic Voices, a semi-official Catholic propaganda and astroturfing operation, and this is being challenged under rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading Advertising) and 3.7 (Substantiation) of the CAP code.

To add insult to feigned injury, rule 4.1 (Harm and Offence) has also been brought into play by a number of complainants who’ve alleged that the advert is ‘offensive’ and ‘homophobic’.

This is all a desperate imposition on our fulminating faux cleric. Not only is he, of course, being ‘persecuted’ by the ASA’s request for evidence to back up the factual claim in the advert but, as always, any awareness of the Godwin’s Law is amongst the first casualties in this conflict…

Since His Grace does not dwell in Iran, North Korea, Soviet Russia, Communist China or Nazi Germany, but occupies a place in the cyber-ether suspended somewhere between purgatory and paradise, he is minded to ignore that request. Who do these people think they are?

They are, of course, people who are tasked simply with doing a job which entails investigating complaints about advertising lodged by members of the general public, and all they’ve done so far is contact Cranmer and offer him the chance to give his side of the story. The ASA hasn’t ruled on anything as yet and on reviewing the material facts of these complaints I think it unlikely in the extreme that they’ll be upheld.

As regards the 70% claim, the poll was conducted by ComRes, which is a member of the British Polling Council, and the full results are available on its website, from which we find that of the 2004 people who took part in the poll, 70% did indeed agree with the proposition that:

Marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman

Okay, for a social scientist’s standpoint, the poll stands out as a pretty blatant bit of push-polling – before being asked that question, respondents were first asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the following three statements:

Marriage is important to society and should be promoted by the state

Although death or divorce may prevent it, children have the best chance in life if raised by their own mother and father in a stable, committed relationship

Stable relationships between same-sex couples should be legally recognised through the civil partnership scheme

And its also fair to say that ComRes has become a favourite polling organisation amongst a number of Christian lobby groups in the last few years and  largely one suspects – and this is personal opinion – because it allows these organisations to get away with running what any credible social scientist would regard as obviously leading opinion polls.

Nevertheless, the results of this poll do back up the 70% claim and unless the ASA is prepared to get into it with ComRes and challenge their polling methodology its highly likely that this poll will be accepted as adequate substantiation of the advert’s main factual claim.

As regards the allegation that the advert is, itself, offensive and homophobic well. let’s be honest, we’re hardly in ‘God Hates Fags’ territory here are we? And, in any case, this is essentially a single issue political campaign and should, therefore , attract a greater degree of protection under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights than would be the case for purely commercial advertising.

In short, it should take no more than 10-15 minutes to compose a suitable response which addresses and roundly dismisses the complaint.

What’s interesting here, therefore, is not the complaint itself but the stereotypical ‘How very dare you!’ overreaction to the ASA’s decision to investigate the matter, a reaction that is entirely characteristic of other incidents in which complaints have been made alleging either religious homophobia or, in some cases, inappropriate proselytising.

If the only argument here was these complaints are misconceived and even, perhaps, vexatious then I’d be inclined to agree wholeheartedly but, as seems to be invariably the case, that’s not the only thing with which Cranmer and others are taking issue.

What seems to rankle some Christians, whenever such complaints are made, is the mere fact that those complaints have to be investigated and they are not, therefore, afforded the kind of privileged status and unthinking deference that the believe they should be afforded. Where ‘persecution’ once meant  getting nailed to tree or tossed into an arena to fight for life it now means nothing more than ‘How dare you treat us the same as everyone else, you inconsiderate bunch of bastards.’

Although I doubt very much that the ASA will uphold of these complaints, if they do it’ll only be because Cranmer has followed some of the half-witted ‘advice’ that being posted in comments and completely fucked up his response to what should be a trivial matter to deal with, which wouldn’t be such a bad outcome if there were any prospect of his camp followers learning something useful from the experience.

Unfortunately, as the comments under his post clearly show, the chance of most of those people learning anything is so small that its not even worth of effort of hoping for a fuck up.

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  • Neuro Skeptic

    I’m surprised anyone saw the advert what with all the other adverts he has plastered over his blog!

    Then again I guess getting people to donate to you for the privilege of having you rant at them is in the best Christian tradition.

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  • Jono500

    Sometimes I wish polling companies wouldn’t ask questions to which the answer is a matter of fact, not opinion. The second of those preceding statements is either true, or it is false, and my opinion on the matter is neither here nor there, and it being true or false has no bearing on how much better (or not) it is than, say, a cohabiting straight couple, or a gay couple.

    Separately, and perhaps more importantly, shouldn’t the results of opinion polls like this have a shelf life? This poll is from 2004, thats 8 years old; I doubt there are many issues where opinion doesn’t shift one way or the other over 8 years, especially this one, given that same-sex *marriage* wasn’t really on the cards at the time, so people hadn’t really had to think about it.

    • Matt Wardman

       “ONLINE Fieldwork : 23rd – 24th February 2012”

  • Jono500

    Ok, sorry, my bad, ignore the second part of my comment – I read “2004 people” as “people in 2004”

  • Matt Wardman

    Reflecting on this, and trying to think of similar examples from other viewpoints. I’d appreciate your comments.

    I haven’t yet reached a view on the advert itself, though I signed both the  C4M and C4EM petitions as ‘Winnie the Pooh’ very early on, and both petitions are jokes.

    I note your comments on the survey, but also the lack of brain-switched-on of some people complaining about it. eg:
    James Peron http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-peron/catholic-voices-gay-marriage-poll_b_1333968.html
    (His hysterical assessment of CV, and also his failure to compare age profiles like-for-like, for a start)

    And also that there is a campaign targeting C4M via regulatory complaints. Lots of whinges about the C4M petition, without noting that the C4EM petition is as bad.

    I can recall the Humanist Bus lot getting stick from the ‘offended by the possibility of doubt’ sharp-elbowed end of  their movement for inserting ‘probably’ to avoid possible ASA censure after advice, and I think C4M cocked-up their due dilligence.

    I wonder whether this touches on the ‘distributor / publisher’
    distinction/lack of distinction that we like to rely on in defamation
    cases?

    I’m not easy with throwing the panoply of the ASA at a blogger (has it happened before?). Shades of force-majeure if we are not careful.

    I see a problem with the ASA and how it runs itself:

    Complaints are made in secret; they respond to as few as one person; and
    the complainants are not disclosed. That makes it vulnerable to
    political manipulation. More shades of force majeure without the ASA noticing.

    ASA will get its fingers badly burnt at some stage.

    Solution?

    I’d want to make the ASA more resilient against campaigns, and take away ‘I”m upset’ and other subjective stuff from the ASA code.

    I’d enforce at least some transparency, and to publish a lot more docs.

    Overall, I’m more concerned with the Radio Ad banned by the RACC asking for people being ‘sidelined at work’ than this one.

    Matt

  • Why are the ASA picking on His Grace. The advert’s appeared in loads of other places, most notably Guido Fawkes order-order.com site. Don’t forget the Paul Staines uses his own advertising agency messagespace.com

    • Matt Wardman

      > Why are the ASA picking on His Grace.

      I’m thinking because someone complained about him specifically.

      • In which case it puts the whole issue of complaints in a bad light. Are they picking on an easy target rather than go for CfM themselves? If they are against the advert then they should be complaining about Guido too since he has just as actively put it on his site rather than have no control over it’s appearance. It’s only fair.

  • unity_ministry

    SBML

    Cranmer may be in the firing line here because he’s pissed someone off and has been specifically targeted or he could simply be unlucky enough to have been the frist of several sites that have attracted the same kind of complaint, in which case he gets to field the complaint and the others will only be contacted if its upheld.

    The ASA have no control over the complaints they receive or the order in which they receive them, they just have to deal with whatever gets landed on them.

    As I’ve said in the OP, its highly unlikely that they complaints will be upheld as long as Cranmer doesn’t screw up and do something daft.

  • david

    Have submitted a comment on LiberalConspiracy which hopefully will appear soon. The summary is that this is a wholly fake row because the Advertising Standards Authority is not an agency of the Government but a voluntary industry regulator, and has no legal powers whatsoever. Its ‘nuclear option’ is only to refer an advert for investigation into unfair selling, but that doesn’t apply to a political campaign which isn’t trying to persuade anyone into a commercial transaction.