Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Biter Is Bitten

There is a vaguely satisfying feeling to be had when the State breaks its own inane rules and consequently bans something that it has, itself, produced; but the news that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has once again been throwing its weight around is not a cause for universal celebration.

I’ve blogged about these people before. Let me put this mildly. I really am not very keen on them. They are, in short, an unelected, unaccountable QUANGO with too much power for anybody’s good.

Synopsis: The Association of Chief Police Officers has commissioned a radio advert encouraging people to snoop on their next-door neighbours and report pretty much anything and everything to the Police lest it be a sign that they’re engaged in terrorism. Does the slightly withdrawn person at the end of your road keep their curtains drawn and generally pay for things in cash ? If so, you need to report it sharpish, because it might mean he’s a terrorist. No, really, it might.

Horrendous advert, you might say. A colossal waste of public money, you might say. Encourages people to spy on their fellow-citizens and potentially provokes a petty, tell-tale society, you might say. Could lead to thousands of innocent people falling under suspicion just because they forgot to say “Good morning” to someone, you might say. Will probably just get used as a lever by the Police for more funding as they have to open scores of new contact centres to deal with all the calls from assorted busy-bodies who’ve got nothing better to do than to report some poor unfortunate soul to the authorities for forgetting their Chip & PIN number, you might say. A shocking indictment on how we law-abiding citizens are seen today by those to whom we pay huge sums supposedly to keep us safe, you might say. Probably counter productive in any case, you might say. And you’d be right, on each and every count. But that is no reason for banning the ad.

So, why has it been banned ? Well, it’s because when it was broadcast on TalkSport, it generated a grand total of: (cue the dramatic drum roll that normally precedes the revelation of a really big number) 18 complaints. From people who had been offended, of course. And so the much-loved ASA stepped heroically in and saved the country from risk of further offence.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that just as individuals and companies should have the right to speak their mind, so should the State. And if the State wants to annoy (or even, heaven help us, offend) a load of right-thinking people whilst trying to disseminate a ridiculous and purile message, that’s up to them. Obviously they should get completely slammed by the Audit Commission for spending our money in that way and whichever sick, uniformed, jack-booted Nazi who dreamed the idea up in the first place should get sacked, but banning free speech is a serious measure and whatever the ASA thinks about likely offence should have nothing to do with it.

So, yes, it’s a stupid advert. Yes, it’s good in one way that we don’t have to listen to it, if nothing else because it demonstrates the utter contempt with which the Police view us as individuals; for that reason alone it never deserved to see the light of day. And yes, it’s amusing that one tentacle of the State has been stopped in its tracks courtesy of the massive extension of power granted to another tentacle by successive governments. But that is no reason to extol the banning of this advert by the ASA. Common decency and plain common sense decree that this ad should never have been made. The fact that it’ll wind a few people up does not.

Underneath it all, this story sends (actually re-enforces, because it’s happened so many times before) the message that nobody can broadcast any advert considered even vaguely controversial any more just in case some dipstick somewhere comes over all offended by it. And that is fundamentally wrong.

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