TV watchdog bans world-debt crisis commercial

A television commercial highlighting the human impact of the Third World debt burden has been banned by advertising watchdogs. The charity Christian Aid, which wants public debate in advance of the G8 industrialised nations' discussion of the debt crisis next year, is surprised. A commercial due to be shown from the New Year is in breach of the Independent Television Commission's (ITC) code of standards and practice, it has been ruled.

The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre has refused Christian Aid permission to broadcast a 60-second and a 40- second advertisement which calls for the Third World debt "madness" to be cancelled.

Andrew Simms, from Christian Aid, said yesterday: "It seems an absurd situation when you can advertise nuclear power stations [and] the Spice Girls ... but you can't raise an issue that thousands of lives depend on."

The advertisement is a story of two debt collectors who are seen taking a needle from a nurse as she is about to inoculate a black baby. They leave with a haul including milk and the baby's blanket.

Mr Simms said that across sub-Saharan Africa, there were countries which were spending more servicing their debts to the Western powers than their health and education budgets combined. Children were being deprived of their future by the debts which were often old and being paid to regimes which could afford to do without the repayments, he claimed. "This advert shows the human side [of the debt crisis]."

Article number 10 of the ITC code says: "No advertisement may be inserted by or on behalf of any body whose objects are wholly or mainly of a political nature, and no advertisement may be directed towards any political end. No advertisement may ... show partiality as respects matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to current public policy."

But Christian Aid believed the commercial would not fall foul of regulations because it points the finger at no particular government or organisation. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and most governments agree there is a major problem.

The G8 group of industrialised nations is due to meet in Birmingham in May. The charity said they wanted to stimulate debate before then.

"If anybody is in a position to do something about it, they are," Mr Simms said.

But a spokesman for the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Council, which examines advertisements on behalf of the ITC, said the advertisement was in breach of the code.

He would not explain why, but said it could be the treatment of the subject rather than the subject matter itself.