Summary of Council decision:

Two issues were investigated, both of which were Not upheld.

Ad description

A press ad promoted the charity "Karma Nirvana". The ad featured an image of a woman with a transparent plastic bag over her head. Her eyes were closed and her mouth open. Text stated "RememberShafilea SHAFILEA AHMED WAS BRUTALLY SUFFOCATED BY HER OWN PARENTS IN AN 'HONOUR' KILLING ... To preserve her memory we have a 3D printer set to create a sculpture of Shafilea in response to your tweets of support using #RememberShafilea".


The ASA received six complaints:

1. all of the complainants challenged whether the image of a woman being suffocated was distressing; and

2. one of the complainants challenged whether the ad condoned or encouraged an unsafe practice.


1. Karma Nirvana said the motivation behind the ad was to highlight a growing area of concern in the UK and to honour the memory of women murdered by their families in the name of honour. They said the accompanying text gave context to the image and clearly communicated their aim. In particular they highlighted that the text stated “They ended her life with a plastic bag in an attempt to erase this ‘stain’ on their family history and have her forgotten forever. Our aim is to counter this dark intention by using plastic in a positive way and build a memorial sculpture in her honour”. Karma Nirvana believed it was highly likely that the complaints received were as a result of people taking the image out of context and not reading the full text in the ad. They said the text made clear that the key intention of the campaign was to preserve Shafilea Ahmed’s memory and highlight a growing problem, rather than cause any distress or offence.

The decision to run the ad and campaign had not been taken lightly. They prepared it with two very close friends of Shafilea and a police officer involved in investigating the crime, to ensure their messages were handled with care. Further, they had worked with multiple agencies and survivors of honour based abuse to ensure they pitched the campaign appropriately. They said none of those parties, including the survivors of honour based violence, had stated that the campaign was offensive, distressing or distasteful.

Karma Nirvana acknowledged that the image was ‘hard hitting’. However, they said there was a fine balance to be struck between being ‘hard hitting’ and ‘not getting a strong message across’. They believed the right balance had been struck, as demonstrated by the fact the number of complainants was low in comparison to the readership of the Metro. They also explained that the image had also been featured on Twitter and been seen by an estimated 25 million viewers, but that they had not received a single complaint directly. To the contrary, the campaign had led to the creation of the sculpture as referred to in the ad. They believed the ad had enabled them to send out a strong and positive message and increase awareness of honour based violence and abuse, thus supporting prevention.

The Metro did not believe that the ad was contentious and they felt it was appropriate for their audience. The agency that supplied the ad did not flag that they considered it to be contentious. They had not received any complaints regarding the ad directly.

2. Karma Nirvana said the Metro was targeted at an adult audience and children were less likely to have been exposed to the image. They did not believe the ad incited or encouraged an unsafe practice, but instead simply displayed an image.

The Metro stated that their target audience was adults aged 18-44 years.


1. Not upheld

The ASA considered that most viewers would believe the image was intended to represent a young woman in the midst of being suffocated. While her mouth was open, as though she were gasping for breath, we noted that her eyes were closed, and considered that the image, in and of itself, was not overly graphic or violent. We considered, however, that a number of readers would find the idea of referring to, or portraying, the murder of a young woman to be shocking and upsetting. We noted that the text in the ad made clear the intention behind the ad and explained that the charity wished to raise awareness of honour based violence and ensure that the victims of such abuse were remembered. In particular, we understood that the campaign was focused on promoting the memory of Shafilea Ahmed, a 17-year-old woman who had been murdered by her parents in an honour based killing, in 2003. We considered that the explanatory text regarding the purpose of the campaign put the image into context and concluded that, when considered as a whole, the ad was unlikely to cause unjustifiable distress.

On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules  4.2 4.2 Marketing communications must not cause fear or distress without justifiable reason; if it can be justified, the fear or distress should not be excessive. Marketers must not use a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention.  and  4.3 4.3 References to anyone who is dead must be handled with particular care to avoid causing offence or distress.  (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.

2. Not upheld

We understood that the complainant was concerned that children who viewed the ad could be encouraged to emulate the image. We acknowledged that the ad depicted dangerous behaviour and that if a child did try to replicate the image they were at risk of causing themselves significant harm.

We understood that the Metro was targeted at adults, but that it was freely available to pick up at stations and on public transport. Therefore, we understood that children old enough to travel on their own, or those escorted by an adult, could easily pick up and peruse a free copy. We considered that, for those children old enough to read and understand it, the text explaining the campaign emphasised the serious and dangerous implications of such behaviour, and clearly portrayed it in a negative light. While we acknowledged that younger children might be less aware of the dangers of playing with plastic bags and were unlikely to understand the text or purpose of the campaign, we noted that the ad was very sombre and was unlikely to appeal to younger children or attract their attention. Similarly, we did not consider that the ad presented the activity in a positive light or as a fun thing to do. We also considered that any younger children who did see the ad were unlikely to do so without the supervision of an adult, who could, if necessary, explain the risks of such behaviour.

Because we understood that the Metro had a predominantly adult readership and we did not consider that the ad had particular appeal to children or presented the activity in a positive light, we concluded that the ad did not condone or encourage an unsafe practice.

On that point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule  4.5 4.5 Marketing communications, especially those addressed to or depicting a child, must not condone or encourage an unsafe practice (see Section 5: Children).  (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.


No further action necessary.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

4.2     4.3     4.5    

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