Lies, damned lies and adverts?
Padraig Reidy asks if there's a limit to what campaigners and admen can say
23 Sep 09

Over at the New Humanist blog, Paul Sims has the story of the Advertising Standards Authority’s admonishment of a north London Pentacostal church, whose billboard advertisement, the ASA found, implied that the church’s “blessed oil” could cure serious illnesses.

The church in question is the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, a group founded in Brazil and now spread throughout the world. Its UK headquarters are in the Finsbury Park Rainbow, a former cinema and music venue.

I should declare an interest here: I’ve lived in the vicinity of the UCKG’s headquarters for several years, and have always been wary of the organisation: a wariness that was only strengthened when I took part in some of their events while researching an article.

But the ASA’s decision does throw up some interesting thoughts: does the right to free expression extend to the right to make outlandish or false claims?

I’ve just returned from Ireland, where frenzied anti-Lisbon Treaty campaigners have been distributing posters and leaflets claiming, among other things, that the Lisbon Treaty could bring the death sentence back to Ireland, that the Lisbon Treaty could allow depressives and alcoholics to be locked up indefinitely, and that, somehow, ratification of the Lisbon Treaty could lead to the minimum wage dropping to €1.84.

All of this is about as likely to happen as “blessed oil” is likely to cure heart disease. But should people ever be stopped from saying them?

By Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms and a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.