Church groups alarmed at Make Poverty History TV advert ban
Church supporters of the globally-known Make Poverty History (MPH) campaign are among those who have expressed disappointment and concern at the decision this week to ban their campaign from television and radio advertising in Britain.
Advertising watchdog Ofcom has adjudicated that the goals of the latest Make Poverty History advert, including an array of celebrities clicking their fingers to reinforce the message that a child dies of preventable poverty every three seconds, are ëpolitical' and therefore outlawed.
It has done so in spite of the fact that it has received no complaints at all about the ad campaign, which began screening on 31 March 2005.
The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre (BACC) and the broadcasters themselves - including the BBC, ITV and Sky - also OKed it after careful consideration.
'We have reached the unavoidable conclusion that MPH is a ëbody' whose objects are 'wholly or mainly' politicalÖ MPH is therefore prohibited from advertising on television or radio," Ofcom announced in its Broadcast Bulletin No 43.
But pointing out that 'striving to end poverty and aiding the poor is an integral part of our Christian faith', Anthea Cox, the British Methodist Church's Coordinating Secretary for Public Life and Social Justice, said that 'it is a concern that a campaign that many Methodists feel called to back because of their faith is now denied access to the public airwaves.'
Ekklesia, the UK Christian think tank, which also backs Make Poverty History, called the ban 'a blow against freedom of expression' and said that it was 'disturbing' that the activities of corporate advertisers were deemed 'non-political' by Ofcom, but not the work of anti-poverty charities.
'Even under Britain's antiquated charity laws, aid organisations are permitted to campaign on issues which make a demonstrable contribution to their charitable objects,' declared Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow. 'But Ofcom has now decided that it is illegal to tell the public about this work through non-commercial radio and TV advertising.'
He asked: 'Why is it ëpolitical' to encourage non-partisan action against poverty, but ënon-political' to promote everyday products which damage the environment, exploit poverty wages and harm public health?'
Mr Barrow declared: 'Make Poverty History has unprecedented public support across the political spectrum, among people of faith and no faith, and among those of every conceivable background. The Ofcom ban will be seen as a blow against their freedom of expression.'
Make Poverty History, a coalition of 530 charities and development groups (not 300, as the Ofcom report says), has expressed disappointment about the decision, but will not appeal.
'The millions of people who are wearing a white band or taking action as part of a campaign do not see this as a narrow party-political issue. They see it as the great moral issue of our time,' said MPH coordinator and Oxfam representative Adrian Lovett, in response to the Ofcom judgement.
The ëclick ad' brought together a number of instantly recognisable public figures from Brad Pitt to Cameron Diaz, Colin Firth to Emma Thompson. The advert received unprecedented support from the advertising industry through millions of pounds worth of donated ad space on TV, radio and cinema.
Five versions of the advert are in circulation in UK, featuring a range of personalities to appeal to general, music and sporting audiences. They have been played at music festivals and sporting events throughout the summer.
In July the BBC puzzlingly castigated the popular sitcom The Vicar of Dibley for including a plug for Make Poverty History. Its writer, Richard Curtis, has been deeply involved in the campaign.
MPH was launched in January 2005 with the goal of persuading the governments of the Group of Eight industrialised countries to write off billions of dollars in debt owed by the world's poorest countries, to improve the conditions of aid, and to move towards a fairer global trading system.
UK prime minister Tony Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown have both praised Make Poverty History, as have spokespeople for all the main political parties.
MPH is part of an international alliance of over 70 'Global Call to Action Against Poverty' coalitions. The click ad has proved a vital tool for many - with Spain, Japan, France, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, Australia, Belgium and Brazil using their own versions.