The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that an advertising campaign run by the UK government telling illegal immigrants to 'go home or face arrest' was not offensive or irresponsible. The ASA ruled however that the adverts were misleading because of an incorrect use of statistical information.
The advertising campaign was launched as a pilot scheme by the Home Office in six London boroughs on 22nd July 2013 and quickly became controversial.
The council leader of Brent, one of the six boroughs chosen for the pilot, said that he was 'absolutely horrified' that Brent had been chosen.
Mohammed Butt said that the policy was 'totally divisive' and added that it would likely 'just drive people underground'.
ASA received 224 complaintsThe ASA received 224 complaints about the large poster adverts, which were mounted on lorries and then driven through the streets of the six London Boroughs. The adverts read 'In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest' and showed a home office immigration officer holding some handcuffs.
The adverts also carried the text '106 arrests last week in your area'. While most complaints to the ASA alleged that the wording of the advert was misleading, irresponsible or racist, some complainants were concerned that the figure of '106 arrests' was misleading or incorrect as the vans were driven around several different areas without the figure being changed.
The ASA ruled that the 'go home' message did bear a resemblance to graffiti messages daubed in immigrant areas in the 1970s but ruled that the message was aimed at people who were illegally in the country and was therefore not aimed at them because of their ethnicity but because of their immigration status. It therefore ruled that the message was 'distasteful' to some but not offensive.
No increase in the number of racist attacksThe Metropolitan Police gave evidence that there had been no increase in the number of racist incidents in areas where the pilot had been carried out and the ASA said
However, the ASA ruled that the claims about arrests made were misleading. The Home Office said that the 106 figure was reached by adding together all the arrests of illegal immigrants in London, north of the Thames in the week before 22nd July 2013.
The ASA said 'Because the data on which the claim was based related to a significant part of London north of the Thames rather than to the specific areas in which the poster was displayed, and because the data did not relate to the week prior to the campaign, we concluded the claim was misleading and had not been substantiated'.
Although 'distasteful', ad was not 'offensive'The chief executive of the ASA Guy Parker said 'Although distasteful to some, we've ruled that the Home Office ad wasn't offensive or harmful. But it was misleading. All advertisers, including Government, have to stick to the rules so we can trust the ads we see and hear'.
A spokesman for the Home Office said 'We are pleased the ASA have concluded that our pilot was neither offensive nor irresponsible. We have always been clear that this campaign was about encouraging illegal immigrants to leave the country voluntarily and was not targeted at particular racial or ethnic groups. In respect of the ASA's other findings, we can confirm that the poster will not be used again in its current format'.
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