The front page of today’s Times reports that the Advertising Standards Authority has backed complaints about an anti-fracking leaflet by Friends of the Earth.
The paper said a draft ruling had concluded that the leaflet made misleading statements that it failed to substantiate.
Friends of the Earth said no final ruling had been made and called on the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to investigate how the draft had been published.
The organisation’s energy campaigner, Tony Bosworth, described the leak today as “an outrageous attempt to sidestep the ASA’s decision-making process”.
“We have kept within the ASA’s rules and now the watchdog really should look into how this leak has been allowed to happen.
“The Times did not report on the final decision, but rather on a draft document. As part of the process, we submitted more information to the ASA which they are currently assessing.”
Friends of the Earth said it had supplied more than 100 references that showed fracking was unproven and posed too many risks to people and the environment.
The leak follows last week’s announcement by the ASA that that it was wrong to have censured an advert by Greenpeace which said experts agreed that fracking would not reduce gas prices.
Mr Bosworth said:
“Just last week a previous ASA decision to ban a Greenpeace advert was overturned due to expert opinion on fracking. We hope the ASA considers fully the expert opinions, including many peer reviewed studies, that we have provided before they come to their decision.
“The bottom line is that the evidence against fracking is clear: it poses a risk to people’s health and the environment. It has been stopped around the world from Wales, Scotland, France, Germany and the Netherlands to New York State so we won’t be silenced but nor should we side-step the process.”
The ASA confirmed the complaint was an on-going investigation. A spokesperson would not comment on the case or confirm whether the report in The Times was accurate.
DrillOrDrop understands that draft rulings are sent to the complainant and the advertiser but are regarded as confidential until the ASA council makes its final decision.
A spokesperson said the ASA had no idea who had leaked the Friends of the Earth draft and was unable to say when the final decision would be made.
The leaflet, published last year, sought donations to oppose fracking. It said:
Help protect your community from:
* Chemicals that could cause cancer
* Air pollution and higher asthma risk
* Water contamination
* Plummeting house prices and bigger insurance bills
One of the complaints was from the shale gas company, Cuadrilla. Later this week, the government is expected to announce its decision on whether Cuadrilla should be allowed to frack at two sites in Lancashire.
This morning, the company’s Chief Executive, Francis Egan, said:
“The ASA undertook a thorough review of Friends of the Earth’s outlandish claims about UK fracking in its charity fundraising leaflet and found every one incorrect. Since then FoE has sought to frustrate the ASA process and delay these findings being made public. Friends of the Earth has lost all credibility with scaremongering claims, such as fracking causes that sand used in shale gas wells causes cancer. It spreads untruths and offers no practical solutions to the very real energy problems facing the UK. It should openly admit its mistakes and stop irresponsibly taking the public’s money by scaring them with misleading claims.”
The Times article said the ASA draft “upholds the complaints against FOE on all four grounds. But another complainant, the retired Lancashire vicar, Rev Michael Roberts, reproduced on his website five objections to the leaflet. He said it stated incorrectly that:
- Fracking is dangerous or has a serious consequence
- Fracking used millions of litres of water, containing a toxic cocktail of chemicals
- Up to 80% of fracking fluid never returns to the surface and could end up in drinking water
- The planning decision over Cuadrilla’s sites in Lancashire had been resolved with the refusal of the county council
- Fracking poses risks to health
John Hobson from Frack Free Lancashire
“These ASA draft results are provisional and are supposed to be, and remain, confidential until both sides have had the opportunity to respond to them.
“It is totally inappropriate that somebody has leaked a draft ruling and The Times should know better than to publish this.
“Friends of the Earth have responded fully with 12 pages of evidence, with over 100 references including many to peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in their leaflet – all of which stand up to scrutiny. This may explain why it was taking the ASA so long to come to a decision but that does not excuse the kangaroo court that seem to have been set up by complainants and The Times.
“The ASA are being treated like patsies by these serial complainants. This case now needs to be closed as there can be no equitable and fair resolution after this tabloid-style trial by media.”
Updated 27/9/2016 with Frack Free Lancashire reaction