ASA Adjudication on The Association of Chief Police Officers
The Association of Chief Police Officers
10 Victoria Street
New Scotland Yard
11 August 2010
Number of complaints:
A radio ad for the Anti-Terrorist Hotline stated "The following message is brought to you by Talk Sport and the Anti-Terrorist Hotline. The man at the end of the street doesn't talk to his neighbours much, because he likes to keep himself to himself. He pays with cash because he doesn't have a bank card, and he keeps his curtains closed because his house is on a bus route. This may mean nothing, but together it could all add up to you having suspicions. We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious, call the confidential, Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 XXXXXX. If you suspect it, report it".
1. Ten listeners, who believed the ad encouraged people to report law-abiding citizens who acted in the way described in the ad, challenged whether the ad was offensive.
2. 16 listeners, who believed the ad could encourage people to harass or victimise their neighbours, challenged whether the ad was harmful.
3. Nine listeners challenged whether the ad made an undue appeal to fear.
BCAP Radio Code
1. The Metropolitan Police (MPS), also responding on behalf of The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), said the ad addressed the issue that terrorists lived within communities and sometimes what appeared to be an insignificant behaviour could potentially be linked to terrorist activities. The MPS said the activities and behaviours in the ad were based on trends identified by police and had been amongst evidence given in court at recent terrorism trials. They said the activity on talkSPORT included two adverts and travel credits and therefore the ad was not heard in isolation but in the context of a wider Anti-Terrorist Hotline awareness-raising campaign.
talkSPORT said the script avoided stereotyping and made no appeals to prejudice. Rather than suggesting that certain types of individuals were more likely to commit a terrorist offence, the focus was on the activities which "together" could "add up" to indicating the presence of illegal activity. They did not believe that the ad could be construed as offensive, unless one believed the Metropolitan Police should not alert and engage the public in counter-terrorism.
The Radio Advertising Clearance Centre (RACC) believed most consumers would understand the ad to be a legitimate call to action to help the police, should they see anything suspicious that could comprise a terrorist threat. They pointed out that the ad stated "This may mean nothing but together it could add to you having suspicions ... We all have a role to play in combating terrorism. If you see anything suspicious ..." and argued that it therefore made clear to listeners that it was not one, but a combination of behaviours that may point to terrorist activity. They therefore did not consider that the ad was offensive.
2. The MPS said members of the public knew and understood the area where they lived and were likely to notice something that was out of place and suspicious. They said they were asking the public to trust their instincts and report anything that they believed to be suspicious to the police for assessment by specialist officers who could take appropriate action.
talkSPORT did not believe the ad was divisive or could lead to harassment or victimisation. They said the ad was clear in recommending a single course of action for listeners on identifying potentially suspicious activity, which was to contact the Metropolitan Police, who had the authority and expertise to act properly on the basis of evidence received.
The RACC did not believe the ad was harmful because they considered that consumers would regard the ad to be a call to action to report anything suspicious in the context of potential terrorism, not as an encouragement to harass or victimise their neighbours.
3. The MPS said the purpose of the campaign was not to raise fear or paranoia, but to raise awareness of the Anti-Terrorist Hotline in the context of the current threat level from international terrorism. They said the threat of terrorism was rated as severe at the time the ad was broadcast, which meant that an attack was highly likely.
talkSPORT did not believe that the ad made an undue appeal to fear, because the tone and content were measured and factual and did not seek to sensationalise or exaggerate a serious issue.
The RACC believed that the campaigns overall style and tone were restrained and that the ad comprised a legitimate call to action, made in clear circumstances and in an acceptable manner and, as such, did not play on fear without justifiable reason.
The ASA noted that the ad described a man who always paid with cash, did not speak to his neighbours and kept his curtains closed during the day. We noted that description was based on behavioural trends identified by the police, and that the ad suggested that, when taken together, those behaviours could be grounds for suspicion.
However, we considered that the ad could also describe the behaviour of a number of law-abiding people within a community and we considered that some listeners, who might identify with the behaviours referred to in the ad, could find the implication that their behaviour was suspicious, offensive. We also considered that some listeners might be offended by the suggestion that they report members of their community for acting in the way described. We therefore concluded that the ad could cause serious offence.
On this point the ad breached CAP (Broadcast) Radio Advertising Standards Code section 2 rule 9 (Good taste, decency and offence to public feeling).
2. Not upheld
We noted that the ad conveyed its message in a measured and reasonable tone, and we therefore considered the ad was not sensationalist. We also noted that it did not suggest that listeners approach, harass or victimise anyone about whom they might have concerns, but instead asked listeners to call a police hotline. We considered that the ad did not encourage or condone harassment or victimisation and we therefore concluded that the ad was not harmful.
On this point we investigated the ad under CAP (Broadcast) Radio Advertising Standards Code section 2 rule 10 (Harm) but did not find it in breach.
3. Not upheld
We noted that the intention of the ad was to raise awareness of the planning stages of terrorist attacks and to engage the public in reporting anything they might find suspicious. We also noted that the ads message was presented in a measured tone, which we considered was unlikely to provoke alarm.
Notwithstanding our concerns, in point 1 above, that the ad could cause serious offence, we noted that the ad stated that the behaviours described "may mean nothing, but together could add up to you having suspicions", and we considered that that conditional wording was proportionate and unlikely to cause anxiety for listeners about the extent of terrorist activity in their neighbourhood. We therefore concluded that the ad did not make an undue appeal to fear.
On this point we investigated the ad under CAP (Broadcast) Radio Advertising Standards Code section 2 rule 16 (Superstition and appeals to fear) but did not find it in breach.
The ad must not appear again in its current form.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Broadcast)