The ASA drops its standards

By banning an Israel tourism ad showing the Kotel, the body displays a shocking partisanship


The decision of the Advertising Standards Authority to ban an advertisement placed in the British press by the Israeli Government Tourist Office is not only wrong. Nor is it merely mean and malicious. It is all these things. But it also betrays a shocking partisanship on the part of the ASA, which has permitted its adjudicatory process to be prostituted in the service of rank political prejudice.

The advertisement contained
several photographs of typical Israeli tourist attractions, including "Jerusalem" - specifically, Jews praying at the Western Wall. A complainant argued that because this photograph - "Jerusalem" - was of a scene in East Jerusalem, it "misleadingly" implied, therefore, "that east Jerusalem was part of the state of Israel." The ASA referred the complaint to the IGTO, but then dismissed its rebuttal, as follows: "readers [of the advert] were likely to understand that the places featured in the itinerary were all within the state of Israel. We [the ASA] understood, however, that the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank was the subject of much international dispute, and because we considered that the ad implied that the part of east Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead."

This is bunkum.

Individual employees of the ASA might have their own views as to what the status of Jerusalem should be. Indeed, the ASA as a collectivity might well be entitled to have its own corporate view of this matter. The ASA might well harbour the view that what used to be east Jerusalem (before the unification of the city) should be ceded to the Palestinian Authority or handed back to Jordan. It might even be of the view that the city should remain unified but "internationalised" under United Nations control.

The advert was not misleading. The caption was truthful in every respect

But, as a matter of indisputable fact, the area that used to be east Jerusalem is - and was at the time of the placing of the advertisement - under Israeli control. Any tourist entering Israel is able to travel freely to Jerusalem, and visit for her or himself the very sight shown in the advertisement. So the advertisement was not misleading. The caption - "Imagine what you can experience [in Israel] in 4 days" - was truthful in every respect.

But that is not really the ASA's concern. What the ASA is trying to do is to pre-empt the outcome of any final-status negotiation touching the status of Jerusalem by imposing its own bias on advertisers. Scarcely less worrying, however, is the duplicity that has clearly informed the very wording of the adjudication.

The status of Jerusalem is indeed "the subject of much international dispute". So is the status of Gibraltar. So is the status of the Falkland Islands. So - come to that - is the status of Tibet. Not to mention Taiwan. The official website of Gibraltar (and remember, advertising websites come within the remit of the ASA) makes no mention of the fact that the rock is claimed by Spain.

I must put it to the ASA that this "misleadingly implies" that Gibraltar is British, whereas the reality is that the status of this territory is (to plagiarise the ASA) "the subject of much international dispute." And lest the operatives of the ASA claim that they only respond to complaints once made, and that no-one has complained to them about Gibraltar, let me add that the ASA itself has told me that it is sometimes minded to conduct "trawls" on its own initiative.

But there is a further dimension to the ASA's culpability that deserves an airing. The photo of Jerusalem that the IGTO advertisement carried was of Jews praying at the Western Wall. In a "further statement" hastily issued following the publication of its adjudication, the ASA has declared that the IGTO can indeed depict the Wall or other parts of Jerusalem in future adverts, but must not do so in a way that implies "that places in the Occupied Territories are part of the state of Israel". By using the phrase "Occupied Territories", the ASA has itself taken sides in the quarrel between Israel and its Arab antagonists, hasn't it? Just as the UK Foreign Office refers to Gaza as part of the "Occupied Territories". But the Foreign Office has never been disinterested where Israel-Arab relations are concerned, and has never claimed to be, whereas the ASA has, till now, insisted upon its objectivity and independence.

This claim to impartiality is now
in tatters.

    Last updated: 10:49am, July 9 2010

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