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By Steven | November 24, 2008

And here’s a political ad complaint I think the Advertising Standards Complaint Board got right. Again, it’s against ACT. This time, it’s against ACT’s claim that:

“Safe” New Zealand is now almost three times more violent than the US

As usual, the ASCB invited ACT to substantiate its claim. It seems from the decision that ACT, despite being given two opportunities, could not. The party merely talked generally about how it depends on how you compare statistics. It seems that ACT didn’t supply any actual source for its claim.

Pause here. How staggering that ACT was happy to garner votes with this claim, but not prepared to substantiate it  – even to a body whose self-regulatory nature ACT would presumably applaud.

So a majority of the ACSB upheld the complaint. Should we be troubled that the ASCB is upholding a complaint against political speech when it doesn’t actually know that the claim was false, and has taken no steps itself to find out? A bit, I think. I’m inclined to think this is yet another example of the ASCB applying its usual processes to a political complaint without thinking hard about whether different ones might be needed. But of course, the ASCB isn’t resourced to undertake its own investigations, and had very little time here.  Also, the advertiser is surely in the best place to substantiate the claim. Ultimately, I think the ASCB’s majority got this one right.

But again, despite deciding the case before the election, voters weren’t told about the misleading advertising until after they’d voted.

Topics: Advertising Standards, NZ Bill of Rights Act | 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Right!”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    November 24th, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    I felt an inkling to complain about another of their ads.

    If ACT’s 3-strikes’ policy had been in place, the only people George Baker, William Bell and Antonie Dixon could have murdered would have been each other.

    They’d never have got out of prison to kill. Their criminal careers would have ended after the third violent offence.

    Before they killed.

    Not after.

    A perfectly sensible argument … until you remember George Baker killed while in custody

  2. Blog Bits | Kiwiblog Says:
    November 25th, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    […] Steven Price reviews two decisions by the Advertising Standards Authority. […]

  3. Nick Says:
    November 25th, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Steven, I am the Party Secretary of ACT and can provide a little insight if you like.

    I received the complaint (from memory) on the Wednesday morning before the election and told I had 24 hours to respond as the fast-track process was being used. Now I had no idea of what this was all about as I had no input into the wording of the ads: I am merely the fall-guy. I responded like you mentioned above, namely that the complaint was lacking in substance and clarity and I could not give a response based on the complaint, which was simply (not kidding here) “this is demonstrably false”. It’s like an assault victim walking into a police station and saying “I’ve been assaulted” and then walking out!

    The ASCB replied saying as a complaint was received it would rule against us unless we could substantiate it. This is not law how I know it!

    So in the limited timeframe I had, and remember with three days to go until polling day there was plenty of more important things I had to do, including Electoral Commission complaints, I simply asked the ASCB to ring David Garrett, who knows this stuff better than I, for a better response and provided his number. I spoke to David before the ASCB did (if it did) and he muttered to me about comparing statistics, which I passed on to the ASCB.

    So when you say “ACT couldn’t substantiate it”, in my view the actual response required needed far more research and written argument than just a “you’ve got 24 hrs, and the clock’s ticking” threat from the ASCB. We simply didn’t have the time to substantiate it in the time available I don’t think.

    That is my first dealing with the ASCB and it left a bitter taste in my mouth that’s for sure.

  4. JW Says:
    November 26th, 2008 at 8:38 am

    Ahhh, Nick – shouldn’t one have their ducks in a row before they make claims such as that complained about to the ASCB?

    Whoever in ACT made the claim in the first instance must have relied on some data to come to their conclusion. Why not provide that material? I could assume, of course, that manipulation (“deceit” is such a strong word) was the name of the game?

  5. Nick Says:
    November 26th, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    Yes, JW. You’re right, and the data was studied. I am told many hours went into the precise words used based on that data. The problem was, as I alluded to, that *I* was asked for a response to be provided in a matter of hours just before polling day which, as I say above, was extremely difficult in that timeframe. I add that one member of the ASCB found in our favour.

  6. bruceh Says:
    November 26th, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I’m Bruce Haycock and I have been right in the centre of correspondence between the complainant and ACT, well before the complaint ended up with the ASCB.

    A perfectly robust defence is available over the issue of some election pamphlets making the ‘three times more violent..’ claim. The ASBC process, as Nick described, seems odd, the timeframe for me to supply Nick with a response was impossible to respond to, coming as it did in the final days of the ACT campaign and for which I had major operational responsibilities.

    A summary; the headline in question was a header to a paragraph in a photocopied flyer, prepared while the formal campaign doc was at print. It originated from a comparison of official FBI stats and NZ Police stats, undertaken by a party member crime policy working group.

    Over 1000 initial photocopies were made, these mainly distributed by a single candidate into their respective electorate. The complainant raised the claim with the candidate who then passed it to me. I raised it with the working group leaders who are a doctor working in public health epidemiology and an insurance professional – both statistically conversant industries.

    The working group provided a robust verbal defense of their work to me, which satisfied me to reject the accusation of lack of integrity by the complainant. (also JW’s aspersion about ‘manipulation’) However the complainant returned with his statistical analysis from which I concluded we had an argument about statistics going on here and I was going to get the ACT campaign out of it.

    So we pulled the header in question from subsequent photocopied production and just got on distributing many thousands until the printed crime policy version turned up, which was an entirely different style of brochure.

    The complainant carried on with high handed threats to ‘expose ACT and its lack of integrity’ whereas from my corner, we had taken suitable action and moved on. I invited him to look at all ACT policies on our website and raise with me any issues of integrity that he discovered. Silence on this invitation

    The ‘three times’ raves continued, he complained that the Herald wouldn’t listen to him and finally he got his ‘major expose’ into the Rodney Times (first week Nov), complete with my rebuttal of his integrity accusations

    And then a day or two before campaign end the ASCB complaint turns up, surely the just and professional thing to do would have been to roll over the complaint to their next monthly meeting. Talk about a dogs breakfast coming from a piece of bone, sheesh.

    I’ll talk to Nick if we should go for a rescinding of ASCB decision.

  7. Steven Says:
    December 1st, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    ASCB decisions are appealable on several grounds, including new evidence.

    But hey, ACT folk, I’m still not seeing any actual substantiation of your claim.

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