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Loophole allows Eircode to run adverts which falsely imply codes save lives

The advert, which ran on both television and radio stations, claimed an Eircode would help emergency services “find you faster”.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

AN ADVERT REGULATOR cannot ban a misleading ad by Eircode because of a loophole in public service broadcasting which puts “an inordinate amount of power in the hands of the government”.

The ruling relates to a public service advert promoting Eircode as a better piece of information to give to the emergency services than an address, with the advert claiming “it will help us find you faster”.

This is despite a FactCheck by TheJournal.ie which found that there is no evidence that Eircodes “save lives”, as claimed by Minister for Communications Denis Naughten.

The advertisement featured free of charge on RTÉ’s television and radio channels as it was classed as a ‘public service advert’ – despite Eircode’s status as a commercial body.

The advert also carried no departmental or government agency endorsement, which is the normal procedure with public service or safety adverts. The Irish Examiner first reported yesterday that if it were considered a public service or safety ad, it could not be banned.

Despite this, Naughten did approve the advertisement, commenting in the Dáil in November of this year:

While there is no requirement to reference the Department in a public service announcement, my Department did approve the public awareness campaign.

‘Public service’

Three complaints about the advert were made to the Advertising Standards Agency of Ireland (ASAI); one from Lynn Boylan of Sinn Féin, one from the Irish Fire Services Association, and one from a consumer who runs a location codes business.

In a statement to the ASAI, Eircode said that the advert never made any claims about “saving lives”, and that it was filmed with the “full consent and approval” of the HSE, the National Ambulance Service (which featured in the video) and the Department of Communications.

The draft conclusion of the report found that the advertisement strongly implied that you needed an Eircode to access the National Ambulance Service, and that they would reach you quicker if a code was given.

The Committee noted that the advertising had not made any specific claim in relation to ‘saving lives’, but were concerned that it was implied that if people in need of the service could be found faster, then there was the potential to save lives.

But in their final ruling, the ASAI found that although Eircode is a private company, they fell within the remit of a public service announcement, and so no sanction would apply to them.

During the Executive’s investigation of the case, information subsequently came to light which would indicate that, by virtue of stakeholder interest in Eircode, the marketing communication concerned was, effectively, a public notice; public notices are excluded from remit of the Code of Compliance (Section 2.3).

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, Lynn Boylan said that the ruling went way beyond her original concerns about the advert.

“We have a situation whereby a Minister approved a public service advert that has been found to breach all four codes of the advertising standards and yet no sanction can be applied. The ASAI cannot prevent the advert from being shown again and the BAI cannot publicly uphold the complaint.

28/10/2016. Forums on Social Rights Lynn Boylan. Source: Sam Boal

This undermines the credibility of all public service adverts and also places a huge amount of power and influence in the hands of the Minister for Communications.
Under the current system, a Minister can potentially sign off on an advert that they know is deliberately misleading, exploitative or unsubstantiated to promote a government policy or activity.

“Minister Naughten must answer questions why he approved a public service advert for Eircode that was misleading and clearly exploitative of people’s fears. He must also immediately address the loophole in the legislation and move to ensure that public service adverts have some mechanism outside of the political sphere for assuring their content is appropriate.”

It’s not clear whether the Minister will now run a separate advertising campaign to correct misinformation given out by Eircode, or continue to promote the use of Eircodes as a safer means of communicating with the emergency services.

Read: FactCheck: Has Eircode really “saved lives”?

Read: Giving out about Eircode is like criticising a baby’s inability to run – Minister

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