Disgraceful Judgement by Advertising Standards Authority

You may remember that I ranted about a television advertisement produced by anti-fluoridation lobby group Fluoride Free NZ that was full of falsehoods and misrepresentations. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one upset about it, other people lodged complaints about the ad with the Advertising Standards Authority.

The ASA has released their findings, deciding not to uphold these complaints. In doing so, the ASA stated that “comments made in the advert were fact-based statements, backed up with evidence provided by the advertiser.” and that scaremongering was OK, saying: “Although some of the imagery could be seen to have encouraged a frightened response, the advertiser had a justifiable reason in the circumstances.”

This is beyond belief. Firstly, it seems that some ASA board members are incapable of recognising that the statements in the ad were either not fact-based, or fact-based but taken out of context. Secondly, self-interest is regarded as a justified reason to induce fear among the public. There’s also an element of both-sidesism where the board states “an alternative view did not make it misleading”. The anti-science perspective of fluoridation requires misleading others in order to maintain the veneer of credibility that FFNZ so clearly craves.

FFNZ has interpreted the concerns by those in the reality-based community as an attempt to silence them, saying “we … are becoming increasingly concerned with the antics of the pro-fluoridation activists. Complaining about these adverts shows they don’t even believe in freedom of speech.” This is nonsense, they are free to express their views, but they are not entitled to a platform to air them. I think that platforms such as broadcast media need to be used responsibly and convey factual information, for the public good.

Besides, if they didn’t want complaints, they should have made better ads. For example, they could advocate for a universal dental health care system in lieu of community water fluoridation. That is, offer a meaningful solution instead of lying to the public in order to maintain their smug sense of self-superiority.

It also raises concerns about the ASA. Looking at their website, it appears that it is a self-regulating organisation maintained by media groups. While they are keen to spin self-regulation as an efficient system, self-regulation is one of the hallmarks of free-market ideology. I see it as troublesome since the interests of media groups, i.e. making money do not correspond to the interests of the public i.e. being informed citizens. The ASA is inherently biased towards ruling in favour of advertisers since it keeps them on side, meaning more revenue down the road. This ruling embodies the frailty of the self-regulation myth.

What a shame, we have degenerated into a society where special interests can get away with lying to the public so long as they have the money to do so. It shows how important it is for individuals with (real) knowledge to speak it clearly to fight back against the creeping neoliberal malaise.


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