Banned advert still on Internet

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

The pressure group Friends of the Earth is highlighting the Advertising Standards Authority's inability to regulate the Internet by refusing to remove an advertisement from it.

The advert, which the ASA banned from the cinema in October, shows a mahogany seat overflowing with blood on to a white tiled floor. It highlights the alleged murders of Brazilian Indians by mahogany loggers.

Caroline Crawford, the ASA's director of communications, said yesterday that she would be warning FoE that the October ruling which banned the advert from the cinema also applied to the Internet.

But Tony Juniper, deputy campaigns director of FoE, who claims that 23 Indians were killed by mahogany loggers between 1991 and 1994, said: "I really think a ruling from the ASA is rather a minor consideration given what's happening in the Amazon."

He claimed that the ASA had bowed to complaints over the original advert from the Brazilian government and had not given due weight to the pressure group's evidence of the murders.

FoE's defiance is a challenge that highlights for the first time the ASA's toothlessness over regulation of the Internet. Unlike in the traditional media, it cannot force the removal of advertisements.

Such a problem has emerged only once before, when an Internet user complained earlier this year about an advert for computer products. It was put out by a private individual, who immediately amended it.

Stricter sanctions are in place in the US, where Virgin was fined last week for failing to update an advert listing air fares. But the UK body has yet to agree sanctions in the event of defiance from advertisers, partly because the service providers have not agreed as a group to its regulatory code.

"Discussions are ongoing about providing proper consumer protection for the Internet," Ms Crawford said. "Possible options include the existing sanctions of adverse publicity and referral to the Office of Fair Trading."