Yesterday, 11th of April, Wellington’s Dominion Post – and the NZ Herald – published an advertisement that ruffled my feathers. Now this was not a ruffle like the tussling of a child’s hair or that of an ornamental lace about one’s wrists, but more of a scuffle of disbelief, anger and confusion – not too dissimilar to how I feel now that Wellington has returned to its weather-y wondrousness.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that this is allowed. The Dominion Post is allowed to print advertisements much in the same way that Wellington is allowed to have miserly wind and rain. In fact it’s expected! Wellington wouldn’t be Wellington if it didn’t have that wind and rain and the Dominion Post wouldn’t exist if it didn’t have advertisements.

The advert that the Dominion Post (and NZ Herald) were paid to publish.
The advert that the Dominion Post (and NZ Herald) were paid to publish.

However the advertisement in question was one that encouraged people to visit a website and tick two boxes that stated they would not vote for any MP who supports the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill (the Bill) or any party whose leader supports the Bill.

I will now clearly state my bias – I support the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill as I believe current laws are discriminatory and that the Bill promotes equality.

This advert does a number of things:

It shows that there are people willing to pay a large amount of money to promote discrimination and that the Dominion Post is willing to take this money and ignore the content of the ad.

It feeds on fear and encourages ignorance through its hyperbolic nature and inaccurate statements.

When an advert such as this is printed questions should be asked.

Firstly: How does an advertisement like this get published?

Well it boils down to money. Whoever it was that paid for this ad paid a lot for it. Like I said above – without adverts the Dominion Post wouldn’t exist, they wouldn’t have a business model that could possibly allow them to print papers and provide them to over 230,000 people every day. So the Dominion Post hold out their hands get paid a lot of money and ignores the fact that this ad plays on the fear that ‘one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism’ will occur if the Bill is passed. The Dominion Post has published an advertisement that incites activism through fear in order to make a quick buck.

Secondly: Does this advert, despite ruffling my feathers and the feathers of other like minded individuals, meet the standards that are required in New Zealand?

The answer is: No. No it does not. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has a number of rules that advertisements must meet. This advert, in my opinion, breaches four of these rules and rather than just complain to friends about this and what the ad stands for,  I took it upon myself to use official channels and place a complaint to ASA.

My Complaint:

“I believe this advertisement in the Dominion Post, dated 11/04/2013, does not meet the advertising standards on the following grounds:

Rule 1 – Identification

While this advertisement does have the word ‘Advertisement’ in the top right hand corner the styling of the advert to look like official voting information, similar to what was published in the run up to the last general election means this is not “readily recognised as an advertisement” and is arguably not “clearly distinguishable as such”.

Rule 2 – Truthful presentation.

The ad contains a number of falsehoods, such as: “The politicians have ignored thousands of submissions,” and “They are ramming this bill through without giving it the due consideration and debate it deserves.” In fact, parliamentary process has been followed: over 21,000 submissions were received, 220 of which were heard and the bill will receive three readings, as is the regular process for Member’s Bills.
The advert also states that politicians have ignored the “consciences of celebrants, registrars, churches hosting weddings, and others in the wedding industry” when in fact these groups, along with everyone else who was inclined, were able to send a written submission to the Select Committee, as over 21,000 people or organisations did.

Rule 6 – Fear

Be labelling the passing of this Bill “one of the worst acts of cultural vandalism” and stating that “Marriage, in the process, will become meaningless” the advertiser uses fear to promote action. This advertisement
“without justifiable reason, play[s] on fear” and as such does not meet advertising standards.

Rule 11 – Advocacy Advertising

It is not clear who “My Marriage Pledge” is; whether they are affiliated with the church or the state, who has paid for the advertisement, or how to contact them. With an advertisement such as this, they should be more accountable. The code states: “The identity of an advertiser in matters of public interest or political issue should be clear,” and it is not in this case. This rule also states that “opinion should be clearly distinguishable from factual information” but as stated above, the number of falsehoods displayed as truth are actually opinions and therefore do not meet NZ advertising standards.”*

I invite you to file a complaint also. Use my text or make your own. But say something, because both the Dominion Post and this mysterious ‘My Marriage Pledge’ group should be held accountable for the publication of an advertisement that breaches New Zealand Standards and encourages discrimination.


*I used the majority of the text from Rachel Rayner’s post on the same issue and I thank her for being an enabler 🙂