Concern over proposed new rules against blasphemy in advertising

By agency reporter
June 28, 2019

Humanists UK has launched a national campaign in reaction to proposals by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to expand its ban on ‘offensive’ advertising, including adverts deemed religiously offensive, in its two codes.

Humanists UK is asking the general public to sign its petition to the Committee of Advertising Practice about its codes, which have the effect of applying a blasphemy law to advertisers.

This is not the first time that Humanists UK has raised concerns about the CAP and the Advertising Standards Agency. It has documented numerous examples of ‘offence’ being cited as a reason to suppress ads that satirise, poke harmless fun at, or criticise religion, as well as those which simply aim to mobilise the non-religious or promote a feel-good humanist message.

In its petition to the CAP, Humanists UK has urged the CAP to pursue compatibility with the Equality Act by banning only ads which directly discriminate, harass, or victimise on the basis of protected characteristics, or incite hatred or violence – not simply those which offend.

Announcing the campaign, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, "This is a very serious issue. At a time when a large number of countries around the world are making concerted efforts to abolish their blasphemy laws, we are worried that advertising standards bodies are proposing one in this country by the back door. I would urge anyone who is concerned about the state of free speech in the UK to sign this petition today and send a powerful message to both regulators and wider society."

In the last 12 months, the Republic of Ireland, Greece, Canada, and New Zealand have all announced or completed the abolition of their blasphemy laws. They join Norway, Denmark, Malta, France, and Iceland in repealing their blasphemy laws since the End Blasphemy Laws campaign launched in 2015.

The Committee of Advertising Practice maintains two advertising codes: the Code of Advertising Practice, which deals with non-broadcast advertising, and the Broadcasting Code of Advertising Practice. Both codes currently include a rule prohibiting ‘offence’ on some grounds, including ‘religious offence’. The CAP is now proposing to expand these to cover all the protected characteristics of the Equality Act – including, for the first time, non-religious beliefs. As well as maintaining existing problems with the codes, this would now also preclude offence against humanists – an unasked for and unwanted restriction on free speech.

Humanists UK will be sending its response to this consultation in due course, and will be mobilising others to respond as well.

* More information here

* Humanists UK https://humanism.org.uk/

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