Government's £6m climate change ads clearedUnited Kingdom
Ofcom says campaign came 'close to limits of acceptability' for public service messages, but did not break ban on political ads
Ofcom has cleared a controversial £6m government ad campaign on climate change, which featured images of the UK wracked by floods and drought, despite more that 500 complaints that it was a form of political advertising that broke the broadcasting code.
Despite clearing the ad Ofcom admitted that the campaign, launched in October last year by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, came "close to the limits of acceptability" in crossing from public service messages to political advertising.
The campaign became a lightning rod for the climate change issue, prompting 1,000 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority and more than 500 to Ofcom.
The complainants to Ofcom argued that the TV ad, which featured a father telling his daughter a scary bedtime story based on the impact of climate change, broke broadcast rules banning political advertising.
According to the Communications Act, the government is allowed to run advertising of a public service nature, such as warnings about obesity or drink driving, but is not allowed to run political ads that aim to "influence public opinion on a matter of public controversy".
However the Communications Act does allow exceptions for advertisements which qualify as being of a "public service nature", such as those promoting healthy eating, armed forces recruitment, tax self assessment and road safety.
Ofcom noted that there is "ongoing and polarised" debate on climate change but that there is a "broad level of consensus across the major political parties".
"Ofcom considered that, in principle, a government advertisement which sought to educate and inform the public on the current prevailing understanding of such issues could be described as being in the public interest," the media regulator said.
Ofcom also noted that the ASA dismissed complaints that the TV campaign gave a misleading or exaggerated image of the ramifications of climate change, although the ad watchdog did ban two press advertisements it said should have been "phrased more tentatively".
However Ofcom also noted that the public service nature of the advertisement was also limited because not much actual information was provided in the commercial for viewers to take practical action about in relation to reducing climate change.
"It was Ofcom's view that, for this reason, the advertisement came close to the limits of acceptability as an advertisement of a public service nature," it said. "[However] Ofcom concluded that the purpose of the advertisement was to raise viewers' awareness of the issues of climate change, in the context of energy conservation and its relevance to viewers."
The ad was not in breach of the prohibition on political advertising, it said.
"We welcome Ofcom's ruling," said a spokesman for the DECC.
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