Thursday, September 28, 2006

RSPCA falls foul of the Advertising Standards Agency

"The RSPCA advert breached breached CAP Code clauses 3.1, 3.2 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness)."

That was the conclusion of an investigation of the 'Back off Badgers' campaign run by the RSPCA this spring.Taken to task by the FUW (Farmers Union of Wales) and an individual (un named) farmer, their complaint against the RSPCA was today upheld. The campaign run by the charity, (together with the Badger Trust) alerted their followers to the government's consultation paper on how, when and if it should cull badgers in response to outbreaks of bTb.
We covered their high profile campaign, in our post here and the Telegraph reported;

The FUW case to the ASA rested on the RSPCA's assertion that cattle were to blame for the spread of bTb. And the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) today supported their complaint, describing the charity's campaign as being untrue and unsubstantiated. The outcome of this decision could have caused immense damage to a government consultation process on disease control. That the responsibility for this very serious zoonotic disease is wholly Defra's seems to slipped everyone's mind - especially the RSPCA's - but let that pass.

The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) president Gareth Vaughan said this morning : "

Defra received 47,472 responses to the consultation and the vast majority were campaign responses prompted by, and supportive of, the RSPCA stance. The RSPCA itself claimed: "Our campaign to try to stop the proposed cull of badgers has received a fantastic response. Thousands of you wrote to the government in opposition of the cull……more than 10,000 people showed their support for the campaign by sending a text message to the government in opposition of the cull. A booklet of your text messages was presented to the government, along with the RSPCA's official response to the government consultation on the proposed cull."

Mr Vaughan said: "It seems clear that the vast majority of responses will have been made by people who were severely misguided by the RSPCA’s advertising campaign and those opposing a cull should now be disregarded. The repercussions of the RSPCA’s untruthful and unsubstantiated advertisements are truly huge. Today’s ASA ruling should serve as a warning to all pressure groups that they cannot twist the truth to subvert a public consultation process for their own blinkered ends."

In light of the ASA ruling, the FUW has written to Defra asking it to review the outcome of the consultation.

FUW policy officer Nick Fenwick, who lodged the complaint with the ASA, said: "The RSPCA has in recent years pursued an increasingly extremist agenda, and the fact that it published such misinformation in an attempt to influence an important government consultation demonstrates the depths it will stoop to follow that agenda."

In its evidence to the ASA, the FUW supplied the ASA with an overwhelming body of evidence from leading scientists, politicians and veterinarians, supporting the fact that the RSPCA was wrong to claim unequivocally that most TB is spread by cattle.

The FUW said "Our evidence even included sources quoted by the RSPCA itself, which highlights its inability to deal objectively with the scientific facts. In fact, we believe that most of the research points to badgers being the major cause of TB in cattle."

Click here to access the ASA website and click here for the FUW.

The conclusion of the Advertising Standards Agency's investigation is below:

"We noted the ad aimed to highlight that a cull of badgers would not stop the spread of bTB and considered that readers were likely to understand it in the context of the RSPCA's position as a well-known advocate of animal welfare. We also noted the RSPCA's assertion that the ad was intended to inform readers that the issue was not straightforward. We considered, however, that the claim was a straightforward and unqualified statement which, in the context of the ad, was used to support the RSPCA's position. We considered that the claim did not reasonably provide readers with an indication of the caution and uncertainty among scientists and government advisers surrounding the relative importance of the two factors in bTB transmission. We also considered that the RSPCA's reputation and public profile was likely to enhance readers' acceptance of the claim. Although we acknowledged that the opinion of scientists and government advisers indicated that cattle-to-cattle transmission was an important factor and may have been the main cause, we considered that it was not generally agreed by expert opinion or supported by the available evidence. We concluded that the RSPCA had not substantiated the claim or shown that it was generally agreed by informed opinion."

The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1, 3.2 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

Full judgement: ASA website

The RSPCA enjoys "charitable" status, and as such is regulated by the Charity Commission.
One wonders what their view will be of the antics of one its most high profile members, found guilty of committing breaches of "substantiation" and "truthfulness". As we have said before, such organisations are not a solution, or even part of the solution to bTb, they are the problem.


George said...

Thank you for highlighting this. The RSPCA campaign was disgraceful, and this is the correct result. We can only hope that Defra notice the judgement and reassess their response to the consultation.
(Oh, gosh – was that a pig I saw up there………….?)

Matthew said...

Only 'one pig' George?? Not 14 million then? All data of course, but that was the number of 'bovine movements' used by both charities (and the ISG) to justify their 'cattle to cattle' rant. That almost 12 million hops turned out to movement of data postcards and not hooves has never been explained.

Yes, a good result and thanks must go to FUW and all those who piled in with information. If I were one of the thousands who had ticked a box in response to the RSPCA campaign which is now described by the ASA as 'unsubstantiated' and 'untruthful', I would be asking a few questions.

But you are right of course - if Defra were to respond, especially the new upwardly mobile Minister, David Miliband, porcine aviation would be in evidence first. And the only 'porkers' we can see are the vaccuous statements issued by the RSPCA and those who earn a living rattling collecting boxes with a badger on them.

Anonymous said...

And what exactly do we expect the DEFRA to say in response?

Perhaps "yes, we are going to ignore all those responses and launch straight into a badger cull".

I don't think so somehow. The ASA ruling changes nothing.

Matthew said...

Anon. said: "The ASA ruling changes nothing".

I expect you are quite correct. That 'unsubstantiated' and 'untruthful' campaign, orchestrated and encouraged by Defra has done its job. Gullible RSPCA supporters have been used, and badgers will continue to die an apalling death having spread their load onwards and upwards. What a crazy world we live in.

Anonymous said...

surely a complaint should now be made to the charities commision about the RSPCA and their misuse of money!

Matthew said...

Re. RSPCA / Charitable status.
I believe some work of that nature is going on. As we understand it, the one thing an organisation enjoying the privileges of 'Charitable' status, absolutely can not do is to tell porkies, either to attract money or support.. Which is just what the RSPCA have been found guilty of doing.

Anonymous said...

What about the national press. My paper has had nothing about this judgement. It must have carried the original adverts for the RSPCA since I did see the offending piece. (Scottish Daily Mail) Have other papers overlooked this story (not wanting to offend a charity with a big budget, perhaps)
A letter to the editor I think.

Matthew said...

The Times quotes £26,500 for a full page b/w advert, while the Telegraph earns £46,000. To have such revenue withdrawn over their flagging up 'unsubstantiated and untruthful' ads, would seriously dent their income. Letters to editors who have ignored this ASA ruling, are probably the only way to react - but they may not get published.

John said...

I had thought the lack of coverage in Scotland was down to us having our own organisation (SSPCA), but Matthew's previous post seems to indicate the silence in the national press is wider than that. Quite sinister that a story as important as this can be buried.