ASA Ruling on Hacked Off
31 December 2014
Internet (on own site), National press
Number of complaints:
A national press ad featured a number of names and the claim "What do all these people have in common? The Leveson Royal Charter Declaration. More than a year on from the Leveson Report, leading figures in literature, arts, science and the law are joining with victims of past press abuse to say: ‘We believe that a free press is a cornerstone of democracy. It should be fearless in exposing corruption, holding the powerful to account and championing the powerless. It has nothing to lose, and can only be enhanced by acknowledging unethical practice in its midst and acting firmly to ensure it is not repeated. We also believe that editors and journalists will rise in public esteem when they accept a form of self-regulation that is independently audited on the lines recommended by Lord Justice Leveson and laid down in the Royal Charter of 30 October 2013. It is our view that this Charter safeguards the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable. That is why we support it and that is why we urge newspaper publishers to embrace it. The Declaration is coordinated by Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press ...’".
The complainant, who believed that the ad and particularly the title of the declaration suggested that the Royal Charter and the totality of its contents had been proposed, recommended, written or endorsed by Lord Justice Leveson, challenged whether the ad was misleading.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
Hacked Off believed the average consumer would understand the word "Leveson" to be part of the title given to the declaration, which was used outside of the context of advertising as part of their core work. They believed this title accurately described the content and nature of the declaration. They explained that there were many royal charters and believed that had the word 'Leveson' been omitted in this case, it would have resulted in the ad not being clear as to what the declaration related to. They reasoned that had any other word been used in its place it could have resulted in confusion and ambiguity. They believed the declaration itself made absolutely clear that it was about a specific Royal Charter “on the lines” recommended by Lord Justice Leveson. Furthermore, they believed the title did not state or imply that the Royal Charter had “been proposed, recommended, written or endorsed” by Leveson and that, while there may have been some argument for this if it had been presented as “Leveson’s Royal Charter Declaration”, the title presented Leveson adjectively, not in a possessive form. Furthermore, they said the qualifying text did not refer to the Royal Charter as belonging to Leveson and separated his recommendations from “the” Royal Charter.
They said that if consumers understood the reference to “Leveson” in the title “The Leveson Royal Charter Declaration” to be solely a reference to the Royal Charter (and not the declaration) then the qualifying text made clear that the recommendations of Leveson were different from the vehicle (the Royal Charter) which laid them out. They re-iterated the point that “Leveson” had been used to describe the Royal Charter declaration but that it had not been used as a possessive noun.
They believed that even if it was the case that a consumer believed the Royal Charter was that of Leveson, the ad was not misleading. They stated that the Royal Charter itself was an instrument disseminated by Government with Parliamentary endorsement and that on the Government’s own website it was referred to as “Leveson Report: Cross Party Royal Charter”. They said the background text on the Royal Charter referenced the Leveson Inquiry in seven of the eight paragraphs and that it contained 23 requirements (in schedule 3) which mapped across to Leveson’s 23 recommendations for a “Leveson compliant regulator”. Furthermore, they said the Royal Charter had many different versions and that the Leveson reference made clear as to which Royal Charter the declaration related. They argued that it was therefore not misleading to refer to the Royal Charter as ‘Levesonian’.
The ASA understood the Leveson public inquiry was widely reported and considered that consumers would be aware that Lord Leveson had made a number of recommendations as a result of the inquiry findings. We also considered consumers would be aware that, as a direct result of those recommendations, there was a movement towards the establishment of a new model of press self-regulation. However, we considered that how this would be implemented was not so well known. We therefore considered that, without a clear qualification, consumers would understand the title "The Leveson Royal Charter Declaration" to be a claim that the Royal Charter to which the declaration related was one of the direct outcomes of the Leveson public inquiry, rather than a response to it.
We acknowledged that the ad also included the declaration itself, which was presented in a smaller font and which stated "We also believe that editors and journalists will rise in public esteem when they accept a form of self-regulation that is independently audited on the lines recommended by Lord Justice Leveson and laid down in the Royal Charter of 30 October 2013. In our view this Charter safeguards the press from political interference while also giving vital protection to the vulnerable. The Declaration is co-ordinated by Hacked Off, the campaign for a free and accountable press”. We considered that this text suggested that the regulatory model that formed part of the Royal Charter had been based on the recommendations of Leveson, but did not go so far as to suggest his direct involvement or endorsement.
However, we considered the strong suggestion of Leveson’s involvement in the Royal Charter alongside a conflicting statement regarding the indirect influence of Leveson’s public inquiry recommendations on the Royal Charter, provided consumers with confusing and ambiguous statements regarding the nature of any involvement of Leveson in the Royal Charter. As a result of this ambiguous information, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ad should not appear again in its current form. We told Hacked Off to ensure future ads made clear that Leveson had not proposed, recommended, written or endorsed the Royal Charter.