Monday, 11 October 2010

Ofcom: Political propaganda OK if it's non-party

According to a report on Media Guardian, Ofcom have cleared this government carbon-reduction advert of being overtly political. But only just.



At the time, its simplistic tone (including the assertion that "scientists" claimed CO2 emissions "that grown-ups sent up into the sky" caused freak weather events) and emotionally manipulative use of a little girl led to more than 500 complaints to Ofcom (and another 1000 to the Advertising Standards Authority). Looked at in the light of Richard Curtis's now notorious Splattergate, though, it all looks rather charming and innocent. Too charming and innocent, in fact. The conceit - a father reading a bedtime story to his child about the damage those idiot "grown-ups" did to the planet with their carbon emissions - says less about the science of climate change than it does about the low opinion the government (or perhaps the advertising industry) has of the general public.

The message is delivered in nursery school language, ostensibly to a small girl, in reality to an audience composed of functional adults, people with mortgages and jobs and responsibilities. Is it really necessary to talk down in this way? Whatever one thinks of the impact that members of the public doing greenish things can actually have on global warming (I'd say negligible) it's hard to see many people changing their behaviour on the basis of something so puerile. Of course, we've become used to patronising drivel like this in government "public awareness" campaigns (think of those brightly-coloured plasticine men encouraging us to "Change 4 Life") - but it is nevertheless rather puzzling. Such campaigns are, after all, contracted out to proper advertising agencies who otherwise produce witty, informative, highly polished commercials. No-one tries to sell car insurance with mocked-up picturebooks beginning "Once upon a time there was a man who crashed his car". Instead we get meerkats.

If the medium is so awful, I can't help thinking, there must be something wrong with the message.

Particularly interesting, though, was the reasoning behind Ofcom's decision to approve the ad, which on the face of it appears blatantly "political". Climate change is, the regulatory quango admitted, a subject of fierce public controversy. However, there was a "broad level of consensus across the major political parties" on the issue. Therefore it wasn't party political. Presumably that would make other subjects on which there is cross-party consensus - such as as British membership of the EU - "non-political" as well.