The advertising watchdog has said it does not have the power to ban Government-produced ads promoting the benefits of Eircode despite finding that the broadcasts were misleading,.
The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) investigated radio and TV ads for Eircode following complaints, and found they incorrectly gave the impression that those in need of emergency assistance need to know their postcode when calling an ambulance.
However, while the ASAI had originally ruled that the ads should no longer be broadcast, it has since stated that the broadcasts were “public notices” and are therefore outside its remit.
The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has confirmed that it too received a complaint about the ad, which is under consideration. However, it is unclear if it has remit to uphold any such complaint. The BAI General Commercial Communications Code specifically excludes public service announcements from its consideration.
Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan, who had lodged a complaint against the ads, said the loophole that excludes public service advertising from the watchdog’s oversight needs to be addressed.
“I am shocked that public service adverts are deemed outside the jurisdiction of the codes of practice of Advertising Standards Agency Ireland,” Ms Boylan said.
“We have a situation whereby a minister approved a public service advert that has been found to breach four codes of the advertising standards, and yet no sanction can be applied.
“In this case, the ASAI cannot prevent the advert from being shown again.
“The implications reach far beyond my original concerns with the content of the Eircode advert. This undermines the credibility of all public service adverts and also places a huge amount of power and influence in the hands of the minister for communications,” she said.
“Under the current system a minister can potentially sign off on an advert that they know is deliberately misleading, exploitative or unsubstantiated to promote a government policy or activity.”
Documents seen by the Irish Examiner reveal that the ASAI had received complaints from Ms Boylan, the Irish Fire Services Association, and an unnamed consumer who runs a location codes business.
In its response to the complaints, Eircode told the ASAI that relaying the postcode to dispatchers would save time as there would be no need for callers to give directions.
Despite this, the ASAI said there was no supporting evidence that suggested that using Eircode saved time.
In its ruling, the ASAI said it was “concerned” there was implication that having an Eircode was now necessary for callers to the National Ambulance Service.
It noted that the advert used the slogans “Do you have an Eircode? It will help us find you faster” and “Use Eircode and help the emergency service find you faster”; but said that it was not provided with any evidence to support these claims.
“The committee noted that the advertising had not made any specific claim in relation to ‘saving lives’, but were concerned that it was implied that if people in need of the service could be found faster, then there was the potential to save lives,” the draft ruling read.
The Department said it would respond to a number of queries from the Irish Examiner in due course.