ASA Adjudication on Gay Police Association
Gay Police Association
18 October 2006
Number of complaints:
A national press ad placed by the Gay Police Association in The Independent was headlined “in the name of the father”. Further text stated “In the last 12 months, the Gay Police Association has recorded a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator. Verbal abuse and physical assault against gay men and women is a criminal offence and should always be reported to the police. Discrimination against gay people in the workplace is also unlawful and should be reported to employers, who have a duty of care to prevent it. Homophobia can never be justified and must never be tolerated. www.report-it.org.uk”. The text was accompanied by a photograph of a Bible next to a pool of blood.
1. Christian Watch, the Trinitarian Bible Society, The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and several members of the public, some of whom pointed out that the ad excluded artefacts of any other religion, found the ad offensive and derogatory towards Christians because it implied they were responsible for a 74% increase in religion-fuelled, homophobic incidents;
2. The Evangelical Alliance, Bible Theology Ministries and members of the public believed the ad was offensive because it implied the teachings of the Bible and Christianity were responsible for and condoned violence against homosexuals;
3. The Evangelical Alliance and several members of the public believed the ad was irresponsible because it singled out Christians for vilification and discriminatory stereotyping, which could incite violence towards people of faith and fuel prejudice, particularly against Christians;
4. The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and members of the public, who argued that an 'incident' was not necessarily a crime, believed the ad was misleading because it implied, by referring to verbal and physical assault in the text, alongside the image of a pool of blood, all homophobic incidents were violent and
5. Bible Theology Ministries, The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and several members of the public challenged whether the claim "In the last 12 months, the Gay Police Association has recorded a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator" could be substantiated.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
The Gay Police Association (GPA) said the ad was devised to coincide with the 2006 Euro-Pride event and was intended to highlight the reporting of homophobic hate crime, in particular, incidents where religion was given as justification for an offence. They said their helpline had received almost 250 calls related to homophobic incidents between April 2005 and March 2006, a 74% increase on the previous year. These included general enquiries, requests for assistance and allegations of discrimination in the workplace.
They said the ad was designed to be thought-provoking and challenging. They accepted that the imagery and headline used were primarily Christian, but argued that accompanying text made clear the issues referred to were not exclusive to Christianity. They said it was never their intention to castigate and describe all followers of religion as homophobic. They pointed out, however, that most of the incidents they recorded were weighted against Christianity, while approximately one-quarter referred to Islam and the Muslim faith.
The GPA said the campaign was a one-off and they had no intention of using the ad again.
The Independent said they regretted any offence the ad caused. They said it was published in the Diversity supplement of the newspaper, in an issue devoted to gay rights, timed to coincide with the Gay Pride march. Following complaints from readers outlining the deep offence felt by some, they took steps to try to make amends: they published a letter of complaint they had received and also commissioned an article for the next Diversity section, which included quotes from complainants and the GPA, to air the matter fully. Additionally, they said they had written to each of their complainants apologising for any offence caused.
1. The GPA said the UK was still a predominantly Christian country and, based on the calls recorded on their helpline, it was reasonable and proportionate for the ad to focus on Christianity; they believed, however, in the way it addressed the issue of religion-fuelled, homophobic incidents, the ad included faiths other than Christianity. They said they used the text "in the name of the father" to highlight what they considered to be the well-established fact that many people carried out acts of homophobia in the name of their god; they used the image of the Bible as a symbol of religion in general.
2. The GPA argued that the ad did not state or imply that Christianity or the Bible condoned violence against gay people. They believed, however, that it was a well-established fact and a serious social concern that some Christians used the Bible to justify their hatred of gay people and to carry out acts of violence against them. They explained that recent high-profile debate around the issue highlighted the problem and argued that, while the Archbishop of Canterbury had recently reminded Christians that the Bible did not permit discrimination against gay people or the manipulation of the Bible to justify hatred, the Pope and many other Christian leaders continued to preach hatred against gay people. They pointed out that the Christian Church had consistently fought legislative change that would result in greater equality for gay people.
3. The GPA said they failed to see how the ad could be interpreted as a call to violence towards Christians. They reiterated that it simply highlighted homophobia motivated by religious belief.
4. The GPA said they had specifically used the term "incident", which incorporated criminal and non-criminal behaviour. They pointed out that the ad referred to "homophobic incidents", "Verbal abuse and physical assault" and "discrimination against gay people in the workplace": they believed it was clear that "verbal abuse and physical assault" referred only to some, and not all, "homophobic incidents".
5. The GPA said they held documentary evidence to substantiate the claim "In the last 12 months, the Gay Police Association has recorded a 74% increase in homophobic incidents, where the sole or primary motivating factor was the religious belief of the perpetrator".
The ASA noted Christian imagery and language relating to Christianity featured prominently in the ad. We considered that, although supporting text highlighted the message that recorded homophobic incidents, motivated by religious beliefs, had risen by 74%, the leading implication of the ad was that Christians were the perpetrators of the reported incidents. Because of that implication, we considered it likely that the ad would cause offence to those readers who were Christian.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 5.1 (Decency).
2. Not upheld
We recognised that the juxtaposition of passionately held iconography, such as the Bible, alongside the image of blood, was likely to be deemed inappropriate by some. While we appreciated that the imagery might cause concern, and notwithstanding the GPA's argument, we considered that supporting text clarified the context of the images and headline: we considered that, overall, the ad did not imply Christian teaching was responsible for, or condoned, homophobic incidents.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clause 5.1 (Decency) but did not find it in breach.
3. Not upheld
Although it featured only Christian artefacts, given the context of the ad in a supplement of the Independent dedicated to the issue of diversity, we considered it unlikely to be interpreted by most readers as inciting violence towards people of faith or fuelling prejudice against Christians.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clause 11.1 (Violence and anti-social behaviour) but did not find it in breach.
We considered that the GPA had intended to use shocking imagery to highlight their point about the rise in reported homophobic incidents. While we appreciated that hard-hitting images such as splashes of blood were likely to be eye-catching, we understood that some of the incidents referred to might not involve violence. We considered that, by featuring spilled blood prominently, the ad suggested that all the reported incidents involved physical injury.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness).
Although we noted the GPA's assertion that they held evidence to support their claim, we considered that, to date, we had not seen it.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 3.1 (Substantiation).
We told the GPA to ensure future campaigns were not presented in a way that could cause undue offence and also reminded them that they should ensure the use of imagery did not send misleading messages to consumers. We asked them to ensure any statistics could be substantiated and reminded them to show supporting data to the ASA upon request.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)