ASA Adjudication on People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation t/a
PO Box 36668
3 February 2010
Number of complaints:
A poster, for an animal rights campaign group, featured a picture of Steven Barker. Text next to the picture stated "Steven Barker: Animal Abuser, Baby Abuser, Rapist. PEOPLE WHO ARE VIOLENT TOWARDS ANIMALS RARELY STOP THERE". Further text underneath stated "Report cruelty to animals immediately PeTA".
The complainant challenged whether:
1. the ad was offensive and distressing, used unnecessary shock tactics and exploited the death of Baby P, and
2. the ad, which was also located in the area where Baby P lived and died, was particularly offensive and distressing to residents of that area.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
1. & 2. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explained that the ad aimed to prevent tragedies like the death of Baby P from happening again, by alerting the public to the fact that a perpetrator of violence towards animals might go on to commit violence towards humans, and that animal abuse should therefore not go unchallenged. They said that Steven Barker had been known to torture animals as a child, and had been convicted by the courts of the abuse of Baby P and the rape of another child. PETA pointed out that the link between cruelty to animals and violence towards humans was documented in numerous studies, and they provided a brief outline of, and web links to, some of those reports, as well as a list of convicted killers who they said had a history of animal abuse.
PETA argued that the ad was well within the prevailing standards of decency. They said the use of the much-publicised picture of Steven Barker alongside the simple tagline outlining his crimes was designed to be as straightforward as possible so as not to cause any undue fear or distress. They pointed out that, whilst the ad used no sensationalist imagery, the documented link between animal and human abuse was shocking and intrinsically frightening. PETA said it was not possible to educate the public about that link without anticipating some fear and distress.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA noted PETA's argument that the purpose of the ad was to inform the public to report animal cruelty in order to prevent future acts of violence towards humans. We considered, however, that advertisers who wished to refer to current or emotive news stories in their marketing should take particular care over how such stories were used, in order to avoid accusations of exploitation or shock tactics. We also considered that they should not cause fear or distress without good reason.
We noted that, although Baby P died in August 2007, his death was a high-profile, emotive case which continued to get extensive press coverage. We acknowledged that some people might therefore find the reference to the Baby P case in the poster exploitative. We considered that the claim and image used in the ad had been used in a shocking way merely to attract attention and that the reason did not justify the means in this case. We therefore also considered that the ad was likely to cause serious offence and distress to some people.
Furthermore, we noted that the poster had appeared in the area where Baby P had lived and died. We considered that the ad was likely to be particularly sensitive for residents of that area, and was likely to cause serious offence and distress to some residents.
We therefore concluded that the ad was in breach of the Code.
The ad breached CAP Code clauses 5.1 and 5.2 (Decency) and 9.1 (Fear and distress).
The ad must not appear again in its current form.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)