I was taught at school always to read the question before answering an exam. Basic, really.
In 2009, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) ran a consultation on changing the rules for advertising Post Conception Advice Services (PCAS). I wrote a response for the National Secular Society, sent it off and waited to see what happened.
The new rules would allow more PCAS to advertise and would also ensure that adverts were not misleading about the services they offered - principally whether they would refer a woman for abortion or not (some can't if they're run by nurses and some won't if they're Pro-Life). There were certain restrictions about when adverts could be run - not close to children's programmes, for example.
BCAP were well aware that adverts might cause offence to some people who have a moral or religious objection to abortion but considered there were strong public health grounds to justify showing them and that the 'specific consumer interest in question is that of pregnant women'. It took into account the fact that 'these are legally available services offering a range of advice and that providers should be permitted an appropriate level of freedom of expression to advertise'. it also stated that 'offence taken by some members of the audience is not in itself sufficient reason to prohibit a particular category of advertising'.
I wondered why there had been no results of the consultation published.
This week, we got an email from BCAP saying they were running the consultation again.
The new consultation notes explain that the 2009 consultation resulted in 27,000 responses from people stating they were offended by the proposals, mostly on religious or moral grounds. However, 'most respondents appeared to have misunderstood what was being proposed' and 'few respondents commented on the specific question of whether it is appropriate to allow a broader range of PCAS (including commercial services) to advertise and whether it is sensible to require services that do not refer for termination to say so'.
27,000 is an awful lot of 'offended' people. So offended that they didn't bother to read the questions properly. Or maybe they did and just wanted to have a rant anyway.
Some of these responses were:
* BCAP's proposal will encourage promiscuity among young people and divorce sex from mature relationships.
* BCAP's proposal will promote abortion as a means of birth control.
* BCAP's proposals are in conflict with the Audio Visual Media Services principle that audiovisual commercial communications shall not cause moral detriment to minors.
* Abortion providers mislead women into thinking that abortion is a quick-fix solution to a problem pregnancy with no harmful consequences.
The consultation notes also say - 'you need only write a second time should you feel that your understanding of the proposal has changed'.
This is a polite way of saying - rant as much as you like, we'll still ignore you. Maybe it will make a difference, maybe they will get another 27,000 misguided rants. The NSS response does not need to be submitted again.
If you believe abortion is wrong for moral or religious reasons, that's your prerogative, as is saying so publicly. Replying to a consultation that exists only in your head is neither persuasive nor productive. All you achieve by barking up the wrong tree is frightening the squirrels. Don't be surprised if they throw nuts at you.
If you want to respond to this public consultation, it's here.
I'll be attending the Pro-Choice rally next Saturday.