Hertbeat ads breach Ofcom rules

Recent commercials running on Hertbeat FM for Stevenage Borough Council prompted one listener to complain that the content was ‘pro-council’, possibly offering support to the ruling party, and inappropriate for broadcast during the pending period for the local elections.

The ads were run on May 4th, during an election period. Two of them opened by saying: ?75% of you said you?re happy with Stevenage Borough Council services and 81% said you find their staff helpful.? The other advertisement stated: ?Since Stevenage Borough Council?s new website went live in January, more than 82,000 people have logged on from Stevenage and all over the world.? Each advertisement ended with the strapline: ?Stevenage Borough Council ? making access to Council services easier?, followed by a contact detail (telephone, textphone or web address).

Political advertising is prohibited under certain terms and rules of the BCAP Radio Advertising Standards Code. In response to the complaint, Hertbeat acknowledged that the advertisements ?may be interpreted as political?. However, the broadcaster added that they were merely intended to form an awareness campaign for Council services, each providing listeners with an appropriate method of contacting the Council, and while the campaign had originally been booked to end on 16 April 2006, sign-off had been delayed. Since the bulk of the spots were scheduled after the election, the broadcaster believed, ?any inference that this was a campaign for votes?is unjustified.?

The broadcaster admitted that human error had allowed the advertisements to be aired with neither the required RACC clearance nor in-house clearance. It apologised for the mistake, adding that new procedures had now been established for all advertising copy to be appropriately approved prior to broadcast.

However in Ofcom’s opinion, the advertisements were directed towards a political end and upheld the complaint for breach of Section 1 (Advertisements and Sponsorships) Rule 4.6 (Central Copy Clearance) of the BCAP Radio Advertising Standards Code and breach of Section 2 (General Categories) Rule 15b (Political, Industrial and Public Controversy) of BCAP Radio Advertising Standards Code.

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