The UK advertising watchdog has overturned its ban on a Greenpeace advert which said experts agreed that fracking would not cut energy bills.
In a new ruling published this morning, the Advertising Standards Authority, said:
“After careful consideration of all matters raised, and including a report from the Independent Reviewer, the Council agreed that its decision to “Uphold” the complaint was substantially flawed and should be reversed.”
The new ruling followed an appeal by Greenpeace. It described today’s decision as an embarrassing climb-down for the ASA. Fracking campaigner Hannah Martin said:
“This was a farcical attempt to stifle the crucial public debate on fracking, and it should have never happened.
“This U-turn is an embarrassment not just for the advertising watchdog but for all the industry advocates who keep touting fracking as the miracle cure to high energy bills.”
The advert (see above) was published in national newspapers in January 2015. It was part of a Greenpeace campaign against government’s plans to allow fracking firms to drill under homes without permission.
The text under an image of a house and drilling rig said:
“Fracking threatens our climate, our countryside and our water. Yet experts agree – it won’t cut our energy bills.”
The pro-fracking Labour peer, Lord Lipsey, complained that the advert was misleading. Lord Lipsey (left) was then a member of the House of Lords economic affairs committee which said fracking should be a national priority. He said the advert suggested that experts were in agreement about whether fracking would reduce bills.
Greenpeace said it submitted 22 different expert opinions in support of the advert. They included statements by the then energy secretary Ed Davey, and the former chair of Cuadrilla, Lord Browne.
But in May 2015, the ASA ruled the advert was misleading (DrillOrDrop report). The ASA’s council that made the decision was headed by Lord Smith of Finsbury, also chair of the industry-funded Task Force on Shale Gas. Last year the task force recommended the go-ahead for fracking in the UK (details).
In its May 2015 ruling, the ASA said there was “significant division of informed opinion on the issue”. As an example, it used statements by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, who had said fracking would reduce energy bills as part of his argument in favour of the process.
At the time, Greenpeace described the decision as “baseless, biased and bonkers”. It said banning the advert was a breach of Article 10, the right to freedom of expression, under the European Convention on Human Rights. It asked for the case to go before the ASA’s independent reviewer.
In today’s ruling, the ASA said:
“We noted a minority of the quotes provided by Greenpeace decisively stated that fracking would not reduce the cost of energy bills. While a range of more conditional expert views also existed, the general consensus among most appeared to be that a meaningful reduction in UK domestic energy bills was highly unlikely and/or was limited to a small number of potential scenarios.
“We therefore considered the claim as it was likely to be interpreted by readers had been substantiated and was not materially misleading.”
A spokesperson for the ASA said today:
“An independent review is an important part of our processes and governance. It provides advertisers and complainants with an opportunity to challenge our decisions. It is only right that, where our Council is presented with persuasive arguments and evidence, we are prepared to overturn our original ruling and put that on the public record.”
The Telegraph reported this morning that Lord Smith had recused himself from the latest Greenpeace ruling.