Who: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
When: 19 January 2017
Law stated as at: 19 January 2017
CAP and BCAP have recently carried out a consultation regarding new rules that aim to prohibit the sexual portrayal or sexual representation of under-18s (or those who seem to be under 18) in advertising. As well as protecting the models in such campaigns, the consultation aims to address concerns regarding the potential for adults to view under-18s as sexual beings and the pressure for under-18s to view themselves in that way.
Generally, the advertising codes in the UK require advertisers to ensure that ads are not irresponsible or harmful, do not offend or harm and are prepared with a sense of responsibility. More specifically, the BCAP Code currently prohibits ads from portraying or representing someone under 16 in a sexual way, although the CAP Code has no equivalent express rule. Whilst the ASA does demonstrate through its rulings that portraying 16 and 17 year olds in a sexualised way is unacceptable, there is currently nothing that explicitly prohibits this under the CAP Code.
Why this matters:
The proposed new rules will help give some certainty to advertisers as to what will and will not be acceptable under the Codes themselves, rather than advertisers having to note the ASA’s approach to this matter on a case-by-case basis. By including a specific age-related prohibition, advertisers will have an explicit message not to portray 16 and 17 year olds in this way. The proposed rules also mean that, when ads do feature those who are, or appear to be, under 18, the degree of sexualisation would not need to be assessed – any sexual portrayal at all, no matter how mild, will breach the Codes.
This consultation comes after the appointment of Reg Bailey as an ASA Council Member earlier in 2016. Reg Bailey was notably commissioned by the government to carry out an independent review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood in 2011. This report, which came after Linda Papadopoulos’s Sexualisation of Young People Review in 2010, prompted a direct response from the ASA, which later took a firmer stance in relation to sexualised imagery.
Over the past few years, the ASA’s approach to ads that portray under 18s in a sexualised manner has been firm and consistent. In 2016 this was highlighted through two main upheld rulings against advertisers who were told to ensure that the images used in their ads did not sexualise those who appeared to be a child.
This added protection for 16 and 17 year olds also means that the CAP and BCAP Codes now closely mirror the protections given by legislation in this area, much of which classifies a child as being below the age of 18 years. One change to the BCAP Code will therefore be to ensure that this prohibition applies to “anyone who is, or seems to be, under 18“, as opposed to just “children” as it is now worded.
It is, however, worth noting that the proposed new rules do contain exemptions for ads that either promote the welfare of under 18s or seek to prevent harm to them. This will include, for example, ads that seek to promote sexual health in 16 or 17-year-olds.