CRE's 'racist' posters lead to vetting

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THE COMMISSION for Racial Equality will become the first advertiser to have its posters vetted after criticism by the Advertising Standards Authority that its recent controversial billboard campaign was "irresponsible".

The Government-funded race relations watchdog was censured by the authority yesterday for the nationwide adverts, which suggested that black people were rapists, orang-utans and needed to be dominated.

The campaign, in the form of spoof adverts for bogus companies appearing at 192 sites nationwide, was designed to shock the public into thinking about racism and challenging it when it occurred.

One of the posters, supposedly for a rape alarm, showed a white woman on a bus with a black man in the foreground. The accompanying slogan read: "Because it's a jungle out there".

Another, for sports footwear, showed a black man jumping at a basketball hoop and an orang-utan in a similar pose reaching for a branch. The caption read: "Born to be agile".

The final poster, under the guise of a recruitment company's advert, depicted two businessmen, one black and one white, climbing a ladder. The white man is treading on the hand of the black man with the caption reading: "Dominate the Race".

The CRE had refused to apologise for the campaign, which it ran in an attempt to test attitudes to racial stereotypes. It followed up the posters with replacements posing the question - "What was worse? This ad, or your failure to complain?"

A spokesman for the authority said it had been warned by the police that the posters might contravene sections of the Public Order Act that cover the use of material intended or likely to stir up racial hatred. The authority received 26 complaints and the CRE received 52. He added: "When the posters first appeared the authority had asked the advertisers to replace them immediately and was concerned by their refusal to do so."

In its adjudication the authority said it was "concerned" that the CRE had adopted such a controversial approach and added: "The approach used was irresponsible and concluded that the posters were likely to cause serious or widespread offence."

The spokesman confirmed that the CRE now had the "dubious honour" of becoming the first advertiser in the UK to have all of its posters vetted by the Committee of Advertising Practice.

The commission has also been asked not to use a similar approach again.

One of the posters in Bristol had to be blanked out after local people complained.

The CRE said it was "disappointed" at the decision by the advertising watchdog. A spokesman said: "We are faced with deep-rooted complacency on the issue of race and many people are not comfortable in talking about it.

"We believe that the methods which we have used are justified by the continuing levels of public apathy towards racism."

It claimed it had received strong support for its stance and added: "When we launched the campaign we were dealing with complacency. Our aim was to get a response and we got a reaction. We aimed to get people talking about this subject and again they are.

"We recognise that some people may have been personally offended. Where we have not been able to persuade them of our case we have offered them an apology."