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ASAI powerless to act on anti-abortion billboards

The Advertising Standards Authority has received a number of complaints over the Life Institute campaign, but said it is outside their remit.

Image: Michael Freeman / TheJournal.ie

THE ADVERTISING STANDARDS Authority have received a number of complaints about an anti-abortion billboard campaign, but said they have no power to act on them.

The billboards are part of a campaign run by the Life Institute, and bear the slogans “Abortion tears her life apart” and “There’s always a better answer”.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) confirmed they have received around 70 complaints about the nationwide campaign.

However, director Frank Goodman said they could not act on them as the campaign has no financial element and so is outside the ASAI’s remit. He told TheJournal.ie:

The ASAI deals with commercial companies, generally companies producing products and services. If this was a fundraising drive, we’d look at it. But it’s expressing a point of view on a matter of public interest.

He said the ASAI was not a statutory body but a self-regulatory organisation for the commercial advertising industry, and had no role in political or religious advertising.

The Life Institute’s campaign has attracted criticism on social media and from pro-choice organisations including Choice Ireland, which said it misrepresented the views of most women who have had abortions.

But Niamh Uí Bhriaín, a spokesperson for the Life Institute, defended the campaign. “People are perfectly entitled to make complaints if they want to about any advert,” she said. “People who support abortion are very angry but that’s predictable. It’s not to be offensive, it’s to raise the issue.”

She said the Life Institute, which is affiliated with Youth Defence whose website is featured on the billboards, would welcome serious debate from pro-choice campaigners.

We’re getting a lot of support from the public, including some very poignant messages from men and women who have been through the abortion process and are saying thank you for highlighting the issue.

Choice Ireland spokesperson Stephanie Lord has suggested the billboards were designed to “make women feel bad about the choices they have made”.

Statutory body

A spokesperson for the Department of Communications, which handles broadcasting and media regulations, told TheJournal.ie that they believe there is no statutory body to deal with complaints about an advert of this kind.

However, he said if the billboards were obscene or libellous it would be a matter for the gardaí.

The spokesperson confirmed that the Department of Communications has not received any complaints relating to the campaign.

Fiona Hyde, co-editor of Dublin-based gender equality magazine Siren, has called on people to contact companies hosting the billboards if they are offended. She criticised the lack of avenues for complaint, saying:

It seems very wrong to me that there is no avenue for complaint against hurtful and incorrect information being disseminated to the general public with a view to furthering a particular religious or political agenda.

Read: Anti-abortion billboards ‘do not speak for majority of women’>

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