Fracking bonkers? Decision to ban our ad shows twisted logic

Posted by Richard Casson — 6 May 2015 at 11:25am - Comments
by. Credit: Greenpeace
Our banned anti-fracking ad

If there was a Guiness Book of Records for the most absurd rulings ever issued, the UK advertising watchdog's decision to ban a Greenpeace anti-fracking ad would surely be given pride of place in the 2015 edition.

Here are the facts...

A few months back Greenpeace published an ad in the Guardian newspaper stating: "Experts agree – it [fracking] won't cut our energy bills." Soon after this it was spotted by Lord Lipsey (a pro-fracking peer) who made a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, a body set up by the advertising industry to enforce its own code of practice. The Labour peer claimed the ad was misleading in suggesting experts are in agreement about whether fracking will bring down bills.

The ASA asked Greenpeace to provide evidence to back up its claim, and we did. We submitted statements from 22 experts and commentators, including leading academics, the energy secretary Ed Davey, and even three separate quotes from fracking firm Cuadrilla. Former Cuadrilla's chair Lord Browne was quoted saying that fracking 'is not going to have material impact on price'. Another Cuadrilla spokesperson is on record declaring: "We don't think it will bring down prices". There you have it, straight from the horse's mouth.

But this wasn't enough for the ASA. The authority ruled the ad was misleading in suggesting there is a consensus among experts, and quoted the Prime Minister’s opinion as evidence. Slightly baffled that the views of an all-out fracking supporter like David Cameron could be regarded as evidence of a split among energy pundits, we asked the ASA whether they were aware of any other 'experts' who happen to share Cameron's opinion. This is what they replied: "The onus is not on us to produce evidence to prove or disprove your claims".

What this means, in effect, is that in front of the advertising industry's kangaroo court we're all guilty until proven innocent. Supplying evidence to support your claim is not enough - you also have to prove that no one disagrees with you.

Ridiculous as it may be, this ruling sets a very dangerous precedent. If the ASA were to apply the same twisted logic, ads carrying statements like "Experts agree – climate change is caused by human-made carbon emissions" and "Experts agree – humans are a result of evolution" could easily be banned. In the ASA's courtroom, Charles Darwin wouldn't stand a chance against creationism, and the 97% consensus on climate change would be silenced by climate sceptics.

And to cap it all, with the chair of the ASA also happend to be the head of the Task Force on Shale Gas (a group funded by the fracking industry), the ruling raises big questions about whether the ASA is truly unbiased.

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