Ten days ago I wrote an article on this blog, about the Cranmer blog, and some threats which it had received from the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The “crime” was that Cranmer had run an innocuous advertisement for the Coalition for Marriage, opposing the current demand by the gay lobby for gay “marriage”. The ASA demanded that he ‘explain’ himself — a tactic of intimidation familiar from Canada – and they also demanded that he keep their bullying silent.
Well, they picked the wrong blogger. The mighty and very widely-read Cranmer promptly published their threatening letters on May 11th and demanded an explanation in his turn. He also wondered why his blog was singled out, when the even mightier Guido Fawkes had run the same ad.
Much has happened since.
On May 14th Cranmer published his reply.
His Grace apologises to his readers and communicants for his brief absence from his cyber pulpit: he has been closeted with lawyers and advisers, and has downed one or two vodka-martinis (‘dirty’, two olives) along with sundry bottles of Rioja. It’s interesting how a request to comply with an official investigation and a demand to respond to a formal inquiry becomes distracting and all-consuming: the mere request is a formidable weapon of harassment in itself, sapping energy, time and money (vid. His Grace’s Collection Plate ‘donate’ button on the right: all solidarity contributions welcome).
In particular, apologies are due to those who objected to his use of the word ‘persecution’ in this context: certainly, he, being long-deceased and non-corporeal, is no longer risking life or limb in the proclamation of the gospel. But, with respect, none of those who judge are on the receiving end of the intimidation. In their correspondence, the ASA do not inform one of the limits of their powers: one is simply confronted with specific demands from an organisation styled ‘Authority’. And through all the hours spent consulting, considering and pondering, there is absolutely no clue as to the identity of these 10 complainants, other than that they include the ‘Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group’ (though it is not clear if the complaint was made by individual members of that organisation or corporately on behalf of all members [if the latter, His Grace would dearly like to hear from any affiliated gay or lesbian Jews who place the freedoms of speech and expression above state-imposed moral uniformity]).
The latter paragraph contains a lession for us all. Note how commenters who support this kind of persecution have developed a standard tactic; they deny that the harassment actually is persecution.
Of course harassment is persecution. So what is the purpose of the denial? Well, it confuses the response. Instead of asking “why are you beating me?” the victim is sidetracked in a futile debate away from the evildoer onto whether the victim is using “correct language”. The object is thereby to blunt attempts at self-defence. It’s worth making a mental note of this, for I have seen the same tactic used in response to other descriptions of harassment of Christians. Those who adopt this tactic must be considered either fools or enemies, and, I fear, usually the latter.
On May 16th more dirty details emerged. The ASA, feeling the heat, published a disclaimer on their website. They did not apologise for their conduct; no indeed: they asserted that their victim had misunderstood! This cynical ploy to deflect criticism, while continuing their action, was dissected by Cranmer here, although at this point even he did not realise quite what the disclaimer was really about.
But here’s the interesting section:
One of the bloggers on whose blog the ads appeared has raised concerns about us contacting him as part of our investigation. We have long found it useful to ask, in confidence, publishers of ads subject to ‘offence’ complaints for their views, because they can give us a valuable insight into whether or not their readers are likely to be offended. They are not the subject of our investigation, as we have made clear to them in this case, and they are not compelled to respond.
This sounds so utterly reasonable that His Grace must have been completely mistaken by both the tone and content of their initial communication. Silly him: what a stupid pile of ash to have got so scattered about and worked up over the sweet ASA’s polite request for titbits of information to provide them with important ‘valuable insights’. How unnecessarily histrionic of him to have used the word ‘investigation’ when none has been instigated and he is not even compelled to respond, as they ‘made clear’.
Sadly, this is untrue.
And so it was, as Cranmer proceeds to demonstrate.
On May 17th the ASA replied to Cranmer’s email; or at least, pretended to do so, while actually ignoring all of his questions. The email was published and fisked.
A reasonable person might wonder what on earth is going on. He might enquire why on earth a body whose role is to regulate dodgy advertising is writing threatening letters to a blogger? Why is this body threatening Christian groups who suggest that God might heal? On May 18th, all became clear.
… former Labour MP Chris Smith, now Baron Smith of Finsbury PC, is not only Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority; he is also Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Mr Smith is widely credited with being Britain’s first openly gay MP, …
But Lord Smith’s courage is not merely historical: he continues to advance his cause. And he does so by exercising an authority which it doesn’t actually possess. He became Chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority in 2006, and Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality in 2009. He ought to have been wiser and more discerning, for the Campaign for Homosexual Equality is a ‘direct descendant’ of the ‘highly political’ Homosexual Law Reform Society. And they make no secret about it.
If one is a direct descendent, one inherits certain characteristics and retains a distinct pattern of DNA. That Lord Smith is Vice President of a ‘highly political’ campaign is in no doubt: the objective remains that of advocating for ‘gay rights’ and agitating aggressively for favourable legislation, regardless of the extent to which each incremental change impinges upon the rights and liberties of others. The more militaristic homosexuals – often termed ‘gayers’ or ‘homosexualists’ – are now responsible for spreading the very sorts of oppression, persecution and alienation historically suffered by their co-sexualists.
And so now we know. But this is by no means the end of the story. Later that day there was a further response from the ASA. With much conciliatory language, but no indication of any intent to withdraw their “investigation” — what you or I would experience as harassment — they stated that they were now going to go after a couple more blogs! Cranmer’s comment was wry:
But the report in the Church of England Newspaper appears to suggest that the ASA has now indeed decided to seek the opinions of Guido Fawkes and ConservativeHome on this matter. While the former (being an Irish national with a blog hosted on overseas servers) will doubtless tell them where to go, the latter will tread more carefully.
Meanwhile the fellow-travellers and online warriors who live to support these kinds of persecutions were getting into high gear and shrieking at the victim, as is their custom. On May 20th Cranmer dealt firmly with them too.
Through the past week of His Grace’s ASA saga, he has received dozens of highly critical emails and hundreds of condemnatory tweets impugning his integrity, orthodoxy and motives. Even this morning, one talked of his ‘hate mongering’ and it being ‘better to drown urself than persecute god’s children’. It is, perhaps, simply the price one pays for expressing an opinion or holding a view which is not quite harmonically consonant with the zeitgeist. If one wishes to avoid criticism, one remains silent and inert.
Most interesting was the endorsement of the persecution from a certain pressure group. It was understandable in a way: there are some groups that can’t possibly fear state action targeted against ordinary people, and wouldn’t understand the need to resist tyranny:
But perhaps no comment has been more hurtful to His Grace than one received from Peggy Sherwood, President of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group. His Grace had politely requested their assistance in clarifying whether or not her organisation had complained to the ASA about the Coalition for Marriage advertisement which is now the subject of a formal investigation. Someone on their behalf had commented on this blog that ‘…this has been done in our name and without our knowledge or agreement’.
This, of course, contradicted the documentation received from the ASA, which informed His Grace that they had received 24 complaints, ‘including the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group’, which, of course, shifted the weight of opposition from an insignificant number of sundry individuals to an organisation which potentially represents thousands. His Grace informed the JGLG that ‘the ASA have used your corporate identity to inform His Grace (and others) that the JGLG did complain (either about the advertisement being factually incorrect or ‘offensive and homophobic’). This would appear to be a false affirmation which the ASA have not bothered to check with you’. And he enquired to know if one of their members had misled the ASA that he/she was speaking on their behalf, and, since the President apparently knows the identity of this person, whether he/she might be prepared to contact His Grace directly. He also sought to discover what action the leadership of the JGLG might take against this person for (apparently) bringing the JGLG into disrepute.
He received a terse response, instructing him to ‘turn the other cheek’ and assuring him of their best wishes at all times, ‘except those occasions when he appears not to recognize the image of God in the image of others’.
Few will feel anything but revulsion at the cynical response.
On May 21st Cranmer responded to the ASA letter, and put it pretty straight.
It appears that the Advertising Standards Authority is no longer solely concerned with sales promotional advertising. …
By choosing to investigate a promotional campaign which sought merely to uphold the traditional view of marriage, it is clear that you have expanded your remit to incorporate the promotion of political causes and ideas, which the CAP Code states specifically is excluded from the scope of your competence, except where they are ‘direct solicitations of donations for fund-raising’. That is manifestly not the case with the Coalition for Marriage advertisement: the only direct solicitation was for people’s signatures upon a petition. That the campaign is political is in no doubt, because HM Government have decreed it so by their decision to investigate those schools which advocate support of the marriage petition, which a minister has referred to as ‘political campaigning’. Your decision to investigate the complaint with threats and menaces, contra your own online remit, constitutes bullying, harassment and intimidation, which amounts to censorship of the cause for the retention of traditional marriage and the idea that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.
By sending out ‘complaint’ papers which demand responses with such phrases as ‘We require you to respond…’ and ‘we will need to see robust documentary evidence to back the claims and a clear explanation from you of its relevance’; and by doing so with demands to answer your questions by a certain deadline with threats of punitive action for non-compliance, you fraudulently convey an excess of power and claim an authority which you do not, in law, possess. You impress upon the recipient that you are the superior moral agent, and that submission and obeisance are the only appropriate response. …
And Cranmer revealed that the ASA had cheated the public even more than anyone had realised:
Your recent claim (published on 15th May upon your website) that you were seeking His Grace’s voluntary assistance and ‘have made clear’ that he is ‘not compelled to respond’ is not supported by the facts. Not least because this was only ‘made clear’ in your second email to him (which was received at 5.40pm on 15th May). Indeed, it appears that your second email was sent solely to permit you to be able to claim publicly on your website on the same day that you ‘have made clear’ that there is no compulsion to respond. This is not merely mendacious; it is manipulative, which is further harassment. …
This is not a public body being silly, therefore. This really is the abuse of power for a political objective:
Your treatment of His Grace is oppressive because you appear to claim the authority of the British Government, the Office of Fair Trading and of the Courts to demand his personal reasons for supporting the English laws regulating marriage. You selected him alone from the blogosphere for this intimidation when larger and more powerful entities had also promoted the same advertisement. And your treatment of His Grace is partisan because, through your decision to escalate to ‘formal investigation’ sundry vexatious and invented complaints, and by your unlawful threats made with reference to the Courts and other available sanctions, you have sought to punish his support of a cause, which has become political, and his commitment to an idea, which is moral. Your Agency is charged with ensuring truth in advertising, not with advancing a political agenda by suppressing the free debate that underpins our democracy. …
It ought to be obvious to any objective, reasonable person, and also to any rational, impartial organisation, that a set of wedding photographs and a quotation from the marriage liturgy cannot possibly be offensive to any reasonable or rational person. They are only deemed to be so by those whose agenda is acutely political. The fact that you subjectively and unreasonably chose to escalate their complaints to the level of ‘formal investigation’ constitutes an intimidating attempt to encroach on the freedom of speech.
Later today, there was another development:
With impeccable (‘interesting’) timing, Lord Smith of Finsbury has come out in favour of the campaign for same-sex marriage.
For all the reasons previously observed, Lord Smith must now resign his position as Chairman of the ASA, who have aggressively and deceptively made demands of His Grace (and others) in relation to a Coalition for Marriage advertisement which merely sought to uphold the traditional view of marriage and English law as it presently stands. Lord Smith now declares that he desires to support the campaign to change that law, and he is apparently using the ASA to achieve his ends.
It is simply not possible for the ASA to assert impartiality and objectivity in adjudicating on matters relating to the promotion of traditional marriage. Lord Smith is simultaneously Chairman of the ASA and Vice President of The Campaign for Homosexual Equality. Now that he has ‘come out’ in support of the agenda of the 10 complainants who reported His Grace for disseminating ‘homophobia’, there can be no expectation that justice can be seen to be done.
Indeed not. All is explained.
Cranmer is right. Smith cannot properly remain as Chairman of the ASA.