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Charity ads placed under scrutiny by advertising regulator

The Advertising Standards Authority is reviewing its approach to regulating charity ads, whereby charities are given more leeway to use sensitive and upsetting content, in response to public concern about messages from charities.

The ASA has typically viewed charity and public service advertisements more leniently than commercial advertisers in acknowledgement of the difficult issues they seek to highlight. However, a report on harm and offence produced by the ASA found more distress at charity ads than the regulator expected. The organisation said many people spontaneously suggested that charity ads have “gone too far” and uncovered “widespread concern” about the impact of charity advertising on children.

ASA said it is confident it is “drawing the line in the right place at the moment”, but outlined a series of measures it will take to review and ensure the balance is struck.

Checks and balances on assessing complaints about charity ads will now be increased, and the ASA will run complaints past its council. The regulator is also now compiling complaints data for the past three years and is to meet with charities and advertisers on the harm and offence research. It also plans to review children’s television ad breaks so the ads can be viewed in context, and pool together information from the last six months of television ads to demonstrate to the council what type of charity ads were placed on children’s TV.

The ASA intends to release a decision on its regulation of charity ads in six months' time, having completed the review.

In its annual report this year, the ASA found there had been a spike in the number of public complaints regarding charity and public service ads. According to the the Fundraising Standards Board's own annual data on fundraising complaints, some 4.5 billion television ad views prompted 209 complaints in 2012/13.

FRSB chief executive Alistair McLean said: “Broadcast advertising is a powerful visual tool in raising funds for charities. But it should never be intentionally used to cause distress or anxiety or risk damaging public trust & confidence as the ASA’s harm and offence research found.

"Charities should take care when developing these campaigns to consider the impact of potentially shocking images and should always be able to justify their use.”

This article was taken from Civil Society: http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/fundraising/news/content/16337/