Meat and Livestock Australia is accused of promoting the rape, kidnap and murder of sheep in just one of hundreds of complaints received by the advertising watchdog since the campaign, starring SBS newsreader Lee Lin Chin, launched two weeks ago.
The Advertising Standards Bureau fast-tracked its investigation into more than 600 complaints and handed down its decision yesterday, saying the ad was not in breach of standards and had merely employed humour to deliver its message.
Many of the complaints about the TV version of the ad were dismissed outright because they complained about a scene where a vegan’s home is torched, which appears only in the longer online version. Most had seen the scene in news broadcasts and on breakfast shows such as Sunrise.
MLA responded to the complaints saying it was allowed to use humour “even in dubious taste” to promote its products.
The ASB has now released three separate reports totalling 140 pages, considering complaints about the TV ad, complaints about the online ad and complaints about the online/social version of the ad.
Complainants called for the ad to be banned on a range of 11 different measures the ASB uses, including:
Discrimination or Vilification Ethnicity; Discrimination or Vilification Lifestyle Choices; Discrimination or Vilification Nationality; Discrimination or Vilification Other; Discrimination or Vilification Political belief; Discrimination or Vilification Religion; Violence Bullying; Violence Causes alarm and distress; Violence Causes alarm and distress to Children; Violence Cruelty to animals and, simply, Violence.
The reports lists dozens of the complaints received as a sample of the hundreds that had swamped the ASB’s office in recent days and which continue to flow in.
Many of the complaints focused on the treatment of a vegan and also the appropriation of an Aboriginal boomerang as a symbol of the Australia Day “rescue mission”.
People claim the ad has reduced children to tears, provoked supporters of the campaign to threaten and bully vegans and used military themes in an ad about a day that indigenous Australians see as “invasion day”.
“I have personally received a threat saying ” I will burn down your house like on that Australia Day Lamb ad if you don’t f*** off”,” one complainant wrote.
Other comments were along a similar vein:
“The meat industry is getting scared of losing money so they are making anyone who doesn’t eat meat feel like ‘pussys’.”
“Not only is the name ‘Operation Boomerang’ offensive to Australian Aborigines but it also features special agents invading other countries on a day many indigenous people already see as invasion day”.
“As a result of this ad, I have seen and personally encountered abuse from others because I do not consume animal products.”
“The comments about and to vegans following the ad have been aggressive rude and violent so the ad is an incite to hatred. It must be pulled from circulation for social cohesion.”
“It is discriminatory to Vegans and scares Vegan children”.
“It also marginalizes many of Australia’s Indian migrant community (as the majority of them are vegetarian or vegan from a cultural background), by saying that you’re “un-Australian” if you don’t eat meat”.
One complaint went as far as to claim MLA was promoting “rape” and “kidnapping” of sheep.
“Ad says if you don’t eat lamb you are not Australian, it suggests Vegans are idiots (because they do not participate in the rape/kidnap/murder of lambs/sheep.)”
Complaints listed in the report on the online element of the campaign expressed similar concerns, while those submitted about the social media part of the campaign highlighted threats of violence towards them and bullying as a result of the campaign.
“The ad has encouraged people to voice hatred towards myself and other Vegans – on Facebook and the Sunrise morning TV show yesterday morning, as an example,” one complaint said.
“We know that Meat and Livestock are violent towards animals and now they are directing their violence towards humans,” said another.
Other complaints pointed out that if the vegan in the ad had been replaced by another minority or religious figure, the ad would not have been approved.
“What if another minority group was put in place of vegans? Why is it ok to make fun of vegans, but not other minority groups?”
In its response to the ad, compiled quickly to meet the ASB’s fast-track deadline due to the limited life of the campaign, MLA said that the ASB had a history of “taking a robust approach to interpretation of the content of these advertisements”.
“The Advertisement depicts a far-fetched military-style operation to bring expatriates back to Australia on Australia Day so that they can enjoy lamb with their compatriots,” said the MLA response.
“The Advertisement does not have a CAD reference as it was created for and published only on social media platforms and has not been broadcast by MLA or at its request on free-to-air commercial television.
“The laws and codes rightly give MLA considerable freedom to use humour, even of dubious taste, to communicate these messages.”
The ASB said that it could not make a determination on the longer version of the ad broadcast on shows such as Sunrise, while the shorter version (made for TV) did not include the scenes many people complained about.
“The Board noted that in this instance the advertisement is a continuation of the irreverent theme used in past versions of the advertiser’s promotion of lamb for Australia Day and considered that whilst some members of the community could find the advertisement to be in poor taste, the issue of taste does not fall under the Code of Ethics.”
It also rejected claims of vilification, promotion of violence and other issues in relation to both the online and online/social elements of the campaign.