THIS RULING REPLACES THE RULING PUBLISHED ON 2 NOVEMBER 2022. THE DECISION TO UPHOLD REMAINS BUT ON REVISED GROUNDS.
A paid-for Facebook ad for the Ministry of Justice’s “Prison Jobs” scheme, seen on 25 June 2022, featured an image of a white prison officer talking to a black male prisoner, with superimposed text that stated "Become A Prison Officer. One career, many roles". A caption accompanying the image stated "We're key workers, problem solvers, life changers. Join us to perform a vital role at HMP Wormwood Scrubs".
The complainant, who believed the ad perpetuated a negative ethnic stereotype, challenged whether it was likely to cause serious offence.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said the prison officer recruitment campaign ran every week of the year across a range of media, including social media, posters, radio and video on demand. The campaign’s aim was to recruit prison officers and other roles for prisons. The ad under investigation had appeared on Facebook in May, June, and August 2022.
The MoJ explained that England and Wales had 117 prisons, over 21,000 officers, and an average of around 80,000 prisoners and, in reflection of wider society, that comprised officers and prisoners of many different ethnicities. They said that meant there would be multiple instances of prisoners and officers of different ethnicities interacting. In their view the general public would understand that prisons in England and Wales housed officers and prisoners of multiple ethnicities, and that was reflected in representations of prisons in media, including news broadcasts and creative programming.
The MoJ further explained that the images used in the ad campaign featured real officers and prisoners. It did not therefore “portray” the black prisoner as a criminal – it depicted a real person who had been convicted of an offence, and it was not an inaccurate or unfair representation of the type of engagement that might have been seen between officers and prisoners. In their view there was value in showing officers engaging constructively with colleagues and prisoners of varying ethnicities since that was a crucial part of the role, and a key part of the campaign was about attracting diverse recruits into an essential public service. The image only formed one small part of the overall campaign – accounting for less than 5% of their spending on the ads – which used a wide variety of images and showed officers and Operational Support Grades (OSGs), of different ethnicities, interacting with each other. None of the other images used in the Facebook aspect of the campaign showed white officers alongside ethnic minority prisoners.
The CAP Code required marketers to ensure that ads did not contain anything that was likely to cause serious or widespread offence, with particular care to be taken to avoid causing offence on grounds of various protected characteristics, including race.The ad formed part of an overall campaign advertising job roles in prisons that had used images of actual prison officers and other prison staff, many of whom were from different ethnic backgrounds. Nevertheless, given that ads in such a campaign were likely to be encountered in isolation, the ASA assessed the ad as it would have appeared to consumers, in-feed on Facebook.
We understood there was a negative ethnic stereotype based on the association between black men and criminal activity; we therefore assessed whether the ad reinforced that stereotype.
The ad showed a white male prison officer and black male prisoner interacting in a prison setting. The prisoner was only seen from behind, with his face not visible and his arms crossed, and wore his hair in an afro style, with an afro pick comb. We understood the hairstyle and hairstyling tool worn were important aspects of black culture, and were uniquely associated with it. We considered those elements had the cumulative effect of emphasising the prisoner’s race, rather than his inclusion in the ad as an individual prisoner. As a result, in the context of a prison scene, we considered the ad had the effect of perpetuating a negative ethnic stereotype about black men as criminals. On that basis, we concluded that the ad was likely to cause serious offence.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 4.1 (Harm and offence).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told the Ministry of Justice to ensure they avoided causing serious offence on the grounds of race.