The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is a very moderate organisation, which has long been pliant to spurious complaints from animal rights groups. A couple of years ago, an anti-shooting group complained about a Countryside Alliance (CA) document outlining our shooting campaign, entitled On the front foot, which we sent to people who contacted us for further information and which was available on our website. It referred to a shooting ground raising £1million for charity. Rather than telling the anti-shooting group to find something better to do with their lives, the ASA took up the complaint. We pointed out that it was a document we produced for our supporters so the ASA had no authority over it, but since we are very reasonable, we also sent the ASA a copy of the full-page advertisement placed by said shooting ground in The Field, stating that it had raised £1million for charity. That would have been case closed in any normal world, but not in the parallel universe inhabited by the ASA. It then wanted us to access the accounts of the shooting ground to prove that the advertisement it had placed, and that we had referenced, was correct.
There is only one thing to do at times like this, so we did it and told the ASA to get stuffed. Despite all its airs and graces, the ASA is a self-regulatory body with no statutory role and when it allows itself to be used by animal rights groups we reserve the right to ignore it. The reason that this is relevant to Shooting Times readers now is that the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), which creates the code on broadcast advertising that the ASA administers, has issued a review consultation. The committee apparently comprises representatives of broadcasters licensed by Ofcom, advertisers, agencies, direct marketers and interactive marketers, though who they actually are is a mystery. One thing is certain, however: they dont like shooting.
There are very few things that the current code bans from being advertised completely. I can find just four: prostitution, pyramid selling, tobacco and guns, and when the code says the advertising of weaponry is banned it goes on to say: This includes manufacturers, distributors and that references to clay pigeon shoots are permitted only as part of a wider range of outdoor pursuits.
So lets get this straight. You can advertise a pole dancing club, but not a gun club; you can advertise pornography, but not licensed firearms, and you can advertise online gambling, but not a charity clay shoot. Then there was the strange case of the Privilege Insurance television advertisement that caused such excitement last year with its extraordinary representation of shooting. Apparently it is all right to have people blasting away with guns in an irresponsible way if you are selling car insurance, but using the same or more responsible images to sell guns or shooting is banned.
You might have thought that a review of such a depressing code would have been a good thing. Yet the BCAP does not propose to lift the ridiculous restrictions it has placed on advertising guns or clay shoots. If it has its way, the words will change slightly but the ban will stay in place. It is still vital that you respond to this consultation because the right response to questions 55 and 56 can make things better and you can still call for all restrictions to be lifted. A large response could force a rethink, but a poor one will certainly not.
The BCAPs justification for the current prohibition is a clause in the 2003 Communications Act: that material likely to encourage or to incite the commission of crime or lead to disorder is not included in television and radio services, combined with a misunderstanding of, and prejudice against, legal gun use. The BCAP also misrepresents firearms legislation and, perhaps most tellingly, when discussing replica guns, says that, unlike real guns, they are not intended to murder or maim. There is simply no understanding or consideration of the legal use of licensed firearms carried out by hundreds and thousands of law-abiding individuals in every part of the country. Regulators have reduced a proud Olympic sport to peddling its wares below the broadcasting radar like prostitutes.
The British Shooting Sports Council and its individual members, such as the CA, has prepared detailed responses to the consultation but, as individuals, we should not leave it there. If you run a clay shoot, gun club, shooting event or any shooting-related business you must respond. If you think that it is wrong that someone cannot advertise a clay shoot on local radio because this is deemed as offensive as advertising a brothel then you should respond. Dont miss this chance to put right a genuine wrong.
To respond to the consultation, visit www.asa.org.uk/cap and go to the consultations section to find the BCAP Code Review Consultations. Answer questions 55 and 56. Send your response to BCAPcodereview@cap.org.uk no later than 19 June. Visit www.countrysidealliance.org to read the CAs response.
Tim Bonner is head of media at the Countryside Alliance.