New ASA director-general Christopher Graham has walked straight into a storm over the authority’s refusal to intervene in political advertising.
Tory MEP Roger Helmer has accused the ASA of bowing to pressure from Tony Blair’s influential lobby group Britain in Europe over its campaign promoting the single currency.
In a draft ruling sent out to complainants last month, the ASA said it planned to uphold Helmer’s complaint against the ad, which claimed that “3 million jobs would face the axe” if the UK was cut off from Europe.
But in an apparent U-turn, the ASA has refused to adjudicate on the campaign, and is also declining to make a ruling on a separate campaign by the anti-European Democracy Movement.
Under Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) rules drawn up last year, the ASA will not make a ruling where ads sought to “influence voters in elections of referendums”.
Defending the decision, Graham says: “These ads are early shots in a campaign for a referendum which everybody knows will take place at some point. Election advertising is now outside the authority’s remit. Pro- and anti-single currency advertising should be treated no differently.”
Helmer says: “The ASA has been leaned on by the pro-European lobby.”