Perhaps ITV1 should have known better, but their ads for cartoon satire show 2DTV and featuring various prominent public figures fell foul of ITC ad regs.
Who: The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, ITV1, George W Bush, David Beckham, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden
When: November 2002
ITV1 wanted to broadcast TV ads promoting its Christmas video of ITV1's award-winning animation satire show 2DTV. One ad featured "President" George W Bush opening a copy of the video, attempting to play it but putting it into a toaster by mistake. Another featured David Beckham compiling his Christmas list and asking his wife "how do you spell DVD?". Two others featured Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. All were rejected by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, the agency that works on behalf of the ITV networks to pre-vet TV advertising before it is broadcast so as to minimise the risk of ads breaching the ITC Advertising Standards Code.
Reports indicate that the grounds for the BACC's objection were in all these cases the possibility that the ads might be regarded as offensive to the individuals involved. Without a letter from the relevant individual consenting to the ad, therefore, they could not be broadcast.
Why this matters:
2DTV's producer Giles Pilbrow was quoted as saying "this is a ridiculous state of affairs – the ITC code is not there to protect the likes of these despots."
He also found it odd that the program could be much harder hitting about these individuals without any difficulty, so why did the advertisement have to follow these strict rules?
The line that the ITC takes in these matters is that unlike advertisements, for which there is no warning, individuals have a choice as to which programme they tune into and what sort of content they want to see.
It is also worth noting that the general rule for the portrayal of living individuals in TV advertising in the UK is that even if the portrayal is not offensive in the slightest, the written consent of that individual still has to be obtained. In this particular case ITV1 may have been hoping to slip the advertisement through on the basis of an exception to this rule which does allow the portrayal of living individuals without their consent so long as the advertisement relates to a specific publication which features the person appearing in the ad. However this is provided that the use is not offensive or defamatory, which is where ITV1 came unstuck. Whether this approach is sustainable in all circumstances, no matter how "fair" the portrayal, is of course a different question, and who knows, we might find that the up and coming new OFCOM code of practice for TV advertising could take a slightly more relaxed view in this area.