ASA bites PETA over Baby P billboard

Watchdog unhorses animal rights group

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) not to re-run a billboard campaign featuring Steven Barker, the man who tortured 17-month-old Peter Connelly and was subsequently found guilty of "causing or allowing" the infant's death.

PETA's Steven Barker poster

The ASA received one complaint that the ad was "offensive and distressing, used unnecessary shock tactics and exploited the death of Baby P", and "was also located in the area where Baby P lived and died" (Haringey, North London), and therefore "particularly offensive and distressing to residents of that area".

In its defence to the ASA, PETA asserted that Barker "had been known to torture animals as a child, and had been convicted by the courts of the abuse of Baby P and the rape of another child".

PETA stressed that "the link between cruelty to animals and violence towards humans was documented in numerous studies, and they provided a brief outline of, and web links to, some of those reports, as well as a list of convicted killers who they said had a history of animal abuse".

The organisation insisted the ad was "well within the prevailing standards of decency". It added that the "documented link between animal and human abuse was shocking and intrinsically frightening", and it was "not possible to educate the public about that link without anticipating some fear and distress".

The ASA, however, ruled that "the claim and image used in the ad had been used in a shocking way merely to attract attention and that the reason did not justify the means in this case".

It concluded that the ad was likely "to cause serious offence and distress to some people" and similarly "to cause serious offence and distress to some residents" in the area where Baby P died.

It therefore declared the advertisement in breach of "CAP Code clauses 5.1 and 5.2 (Decency) and 9.1 (Fear and distress)", ordering that it "must not appear again in its current form". ®

Bootnote

In October last year, PETA was obliged to change the wording of the original billboard campaign, which opened with "Steven Barker: Animal Abuser, Rapist and Murderer", after Barker himself threatened to sue for libel.

According to the Daily Mail, Barker's solicitor fired off a letter which read: "I have been informed of your latest advertising campaign featuring my client. You should be aware that Mr Barker was acquitted of murder at the Central Criminal Court. Your campaign poster is therefore libellous. Please remove it immediately or we will be forced to institute proceedings against you."

PETA replaced the poster at a cost of £1,000, but "could have faced a much higher bill if Barker had sued successfully".

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