The recent banning by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) of two advertisements under its new rules against “gender stereotyping” marks a further encroachment upon freedom of communication. In this instance it also involves intervention in the operation of the market.
Since its creation in 1962 the Advertising Standards Authority has broadly performed well. It is not a government agency and receives no taxpayers’ money, being a watchdog established by the advertising industry for self-regulation. The nature of its remit has inevitably embroiled it in occasional controversy, but it has generally been well regarded until now.
That remit is clear and obvious. Its duty is to protect consumers, to prevent advertisers from selling products through false or inflated claims and to ensure that advertising observes the fundamental decencies. No reasonable person could have any quarrel with that. But that socially useful remit does not, by any stretch of reasoning, legitimise the banning of advertisements on ideological grounds.