The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre, which pre-vets all TV advertising before broadcast, gave the green light to an in-ad reference to actress Jessie Wallace because it was ‘not derogatory.’ But was this relevant?
Who: Jessie Wallace and Now magazine
When: April 2004
Ofcom received a complaint on behalf of the actress Jessie Wallace. It concerned a scripted verbal reference to her in TV advertising for Now magazine. The reference was "(at 11.30pm) you were fabulously Jessie Wallace." Miss Wallace had not given her consent.
Ofcom established when processing the complaint that the advertising in question had indeed been passed for broadcasting by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre ("BACC"). The BACC had passed it because they felt it was not derogatory.
Ofcom pointed out, however, that the Advertising Standards Code is very strict in cases like this. It says that with very limited exceptions, none of which appear to have applied here, no living person can be referred to in TV advertising without their prior permission.
In the circumstances, Ofcom upheld the complaint and required that the ad making this reference to Miss Wallace remained off-air until she gave her permission.
Why this matters:
As the Code is so strict in this area, it is surprising that this advertisement passed the BACC's vetting procedures. It is even more surprising that when informed of the complaint, the BACC continued to defend their position on the basis that the reference was not offensive or derogatory.
With respect to the BACC, this is simply not the point. The rule in the Code is quite clear. Unless the advertising is for specific publications featuring the person referred to or classifies as "general advertising for news media", or the appearance is brief and incidental, for instance in a crowd scene, no living person can be portrayed, caricatured or referred to in TV advertising (or radio advertising for that matter) without their prior written consent.
It is a possibility that the "general news media" exception applied here, but the Ofcom report makes no reference to any of the exceptions even arguably applying.