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Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 17:24 GMT


UK

Court battle over 'offensive' ad rants

Trago Mills is a household name in towns like Falmouth

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was legally entitled to censure a businessman's outbursts against homosexuals in local newspaper adverts, a High Court judge has ruled.

In July 1998 the ASA upheld readers' complaints against newspaper adverts for Trago Mills shopping centres in Devon and Cornwall on the basis that editorial they contained was "racist, offensive and could incite violence".

The idiosyncratic adverts, run in the same style for the past 30 years, contain half a page of editorial and half a page of product adverts.

In densely-packed print, the offending text - written by a Mike Robertson aka Tripehound, a member of the family which owns Trago Mills - took a swipe at local planners and contained a plug for the Freedom Association.

It described homosexuals as "poofters" and said the young should be protected from "this foul minority".

The High Court ruling came after Trago Mills challenged the ASA, arguing it had no jurisdiction because the editorial was not part of the advert.

But the judge accepted the ASA's argument that the column always formed part of an advertisement, placed and paid for by an advertiser in a newspaper, and was therefore subject to ASA jurisdiction.

'Adverts like no other'

He said counsel for Charles Robertson (Developments) Ltd, trading as Trago Mills Regional Shopping Centres, had charitably described the column as "a farrago of political, cultural and social comments by its author".

Terry Lambert, general manager of Falmouth-based Packet Newspapers which ran one of the offending adverts, described their style as "unique".

He told BBC News Online: "They are like no other advert for a supermarket.

"Basically the company takes out a page a week in every newspaper in the south west - half a page is crammed with a political rant, the other advertises their products.

"We reserve the right to cut them to comply with the law, very occasionally the ASA intervenes and says they go to far.

"It has brought Mr Robertson a lot of publicity over the years, I would say he has featured in every national newspaper.

"His greatest bugbear at the moment is the European Union."

Freedom of speech

But the judge said a question remained over whether there had been an interference with the author's freedom of speech.

This would have to be decided at a future date, once pending human rights legislation had become part of domestic law.

The judge concluded: "On the question of what is the position once Article 10 [European Convention on Human Rights] is part of our law I would use the vernacular of advertising - watch this space."





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