Countdown to our 50th anniversary: 1981
24 August 2012
It’s 1981 and economically Britain was in dire straits - one in nine of the workforce was out of work, with unemployment hitting 2,680,977; the first London Marathon was held and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy began airing on TV.
On our regulatory side of the galaxy, we reviewed a year in which the underlying principles of the Advertising Codes ‘Legal, decent, honest and truthful’ had, by our estimation, “almost become a household phrase”. Our ad campaign had reached a wide audience and we noted, rather strangely, “comedians now use it as a familiar reference”. It must have been a tough gig.
But it wasn’t all a barrel of laughs. Our Chairman, Professor Lord McGregor of Durris had some thoughtful and forthright views on those who levelled criticisms at the perceived lack of ASA powers. He offered this staunch rebuff:
“Toothless we are not. The sanction of the willingness of newspapers and periodicals to withhold their space from recalcitrant advertisers at our request is a complete sanction, to say nothing of the undesirable effects for advertisers of the publicity which inevitably accompanies some of the Authority's adjudications.”
And, in a typically expressive mood he rejected the assertion from some quarters that the ASA’s funding by industry somehow compromised our independence:
“Nobody says that the independence of judges is endangered by reason of the fact that the Government pays their salaries: the independence of the Authority is no more in danger because its income comes from the industry which it was established to regulate.”
Indeed, 1981 seems to have been altogether a bit feisty. Perhaps the most striking part of our Annual Report that year is our quite extraordinary, uninhibited, scathing attack on the BBC. Somewhere along the line we clearly fell out. The source of our discontent appears to have stemmed from a critical report of the ASA that appeared in a BBC programme ‘Nationwide’. While we accept criticism where it is due, it is clear from the full three pages of our Report devoted to setting the record straight that we had well and truly had our regulatory fur ruffled.
Below are just some short snippets to give you a flavour of just how irked we were:
“This country is justly proud of the BBC though, like many venerable institutions, self-righteousness permits it a little too often to yield to the temptation to equate criticism of its programmes with impiety.”
“The Royal Commission on the Press which reported in 1977, observed that the worst form of misconduct by journalists is the basing of contentious opinion upon inaccurate and unchecked information.”
“We believe that the Corporation's handling of the matter was not merely maladroit but revealed attitudes and raised issues of general concern going beyond the triviality of the particular circumstances.”
We’re happy to report that time is a healer and there are no hard feelings.
Elsewhere, 1981 marked the 200th meeting of the ASA Council - the body responsible for complaints adjudication. Amongst the points of concern considered by Council during the course of the year and outlined in the Report were 52 complaints investigated on the grounds of taste and decency. Specifically, 21 of those related to the depiction of women in advertisements.
While only 11 of those ads were found to be in breach of the Code, we continued in our combative tone by remarking that:
“the irrelevant and tasteless use of female models, the general debasement of language and the increasing use of sadistic and violent appeals were points of particular criticism.”
Lastly, although a mere footnote in the overall scheme of the Report, mention should be made of our proud boast that, with some shiny new kit, we were better placed to get out and meet external stakeholders.
“With the acquisition of a modular display unit, the Authority was able to participate in a series of exhibitions”.
Read the 1981 Annual report here