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Australian Standard Bureau’s many standards..!

MLA’s Lamb ad sparks Australia wide protests

Melbourne, September 24:  As reported by Bharat Times earlier, the Meat & Livestock Australia (“MLA”) advertisement depicting Lord Ganesh in its Lamb advertisement has upset Indians and Hindus all over the world. Such is the depth of gravity of their hurt and protest that the matter had the diplomatic channels of both India and Australia communicating on the issue.

The Indian High Commission made a demarche to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Communication and Arts and Department of Agriculture bringing to their notice the offensive advertisement by Meat and Livestock Australia that hurt the religious sentiments of the Indian community.

In a press release the High Commission said:

“The Consulate General of India in Sydney has taken up the matter directly with Meat and Livestock Australia and urged them to withdraw the advertisement.”

Various other complainants also lodged complaints with the advertising watchdog in Australia – the Advertising Standards Bureau (“ASB”), which is a national body looking after the interests of consumers.

 

Excerpts from a complaint to the ASB:

The portrayal of a Hindu God (Lord Ganesha) along with the talk of lamb in the advert is disgraceful, offensive and inappropriate.

… This is very offensive … Moreover, linking Lord Ganesha with meat was very disrespectful and highly inappropriate.

 

Excerpts from a complaint to the ASB:

… I’m a Hindu and I see this commercial degrading our religion … it shows Hindu god Lord Ganesha eating/promoting meat and drinking wine. This is totally out of line and is insensitive, misleading and hurts religious sentiments of all people from Hindu background.

The ASB sought a response from Meat & Livestock Australia.

In a response, MLA dealing directly with issue of religious hurt of Hindus said:

“We have carefully considered the allegations and for the reasons set out below, submit that the complaints should be dismissed.

“The complaints allege that the Advertisement is offensive to Hindus and incorrectly depicts the Hindu religion by suggesting that the Hindu deity, Ganesh, eats meat.”

Meat and Livestock Australia said further:

  • our understanding is that the Hindu faith does not forbid meat eating and that, while many Hindus abstain from eating beef (given the sacred nature of the cow to the faith), lamb is not similarly characterized.
  • we acknowledge that many Hindus may nevertheless choose to abstain from eating any form of meat, however our understanding is that it is not a central tenet of the faith (contrasted with, for example, the Muslim faith and alcohol).
  • we note that Ganesh is not shown eating lamb or drinking alcohol at any point in the advertisement.
  • we were informed that the actor who played the role of Ganesh was a practising Hindu man.

About the statement “shall we address the elephant in the room?” (referring to the elephant headed god, Ganesh) being offensive to Hindus, MLA suggested it was “intended to be a humorous reference to Ganesh as well as a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that some topics (including, potentially, religion) are not discussed at dinner parties.”


Vilification:

Section 2.1 of th Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics (the Code), which incorporates the AANA Food and Beverages Advertising and Marketing Communications Code (the Food Code) and the AANA Code for Advertising and Marketing Communications to Children is relevant to the point in issue here and it reads as below:

“Advertising or Marketing Communications shall not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability or political belief.”

In MLA’s opinion, the advert does not humiliate, intimidate, incite hatred towards, contempt for or ridicule any particular religious group and therefore does not reach the threshold required for vilification under section 2.1 of the Code.

“The friendly, tongue in cheek comment made by the BBQ host that ‘it’s a nightmare catering for you lot with all your dietary requirements’ openly acknowledges that different religious groups have different beliefs when it comes to diet”, MLA submitted to the ASB.

Further, MLA claims to have undertaken appropriate research and consulted with two external experts in the field of multi-faith religious studies from Australian Universities but has not named those experts

But the Bureau which is there to ‘give voice to consumer values and guide industry in maintaining decent, honest advertising aligning with prevailing community values’, has dismissed the complaints as without foundation and concluded the advertisement is inclusive and suggests it was representative of modern multicultural Australia.

Bharat Times understands a minority of the Board:

  • noted that the hostess acknowledges that catering to the varying dietary requirements of her guests is difficult and considered that her subsequent toast suggesting that lamb is the meat they can all eat suggests that she is either ignoring the dietary requirements of Lord Ganesha, and the Buddhist monk who would also be vegetarian, or that she is dismissing their requirements as of no importance.
  • considered that the advertisement presents Lord Ganesha as a lamb eater and that this undermines an important characteristic of this God;
  • considered that this treatment of Lord Ganesh is therefore a depiction of a person in a manner that discriminates against or vilifies him;
  • considered that the advertisement breaches Section 2.1 of the Code.

Despite that, the Board by majority considered that the overall tone of the advertisement is light-hearted and humorous and in their view the intent is to be inclusive in a manner which promotes a harmonious and multi-faith environment.

A statement of fact which should come as a shock to Indian Australians, the Board considered that the Indian population and those of Hindu religion (the fifth largest group and tenth most prevalent religion) are not a disadvantaged or minority population for the consideration of whether or not material is vilifying.

BT understands none of the board members have any real or significant knowledge of Hinduism – most of them being from the marketing background and some being AANA board members or employed by AANA. BT further understands the ASB did not seek any expert advice on the matter before making up its mind.

Different interpretation in 2013

In 2013 the SB received a complaint about an advertisement featuring a recitation of an Islamic call to prayer with a female voiceover describing an alcoholic beverage “liquid gold Vodka”. The woman’s voice was spoken in a slow and sultry tone.

A complainant lodged a complaint with the ASB that the prayer recitation was being played while the narrator was talking about alcohol.

“Not only is it forbidden for the Muslim to consume alcohol but the effects of the song portrayed a sexual theme. This is a disgrace to the Islamic community & religion”, the complainant said.

The Board considered that the use of the backing music juxtaposed with the promotion of an alcoholic beverage was inappropriate as Muslims are enjoined by their religion to abstain from eating certain foods including intoxicating beverages.

And in a clear distinction to the current Lord Ganesha-Lamb advertisement controversy, then the Board considered that a strong association between a fundamental religious belief and a product that is contrary to that belief is disrespectful and offensive to the (Muslim) community.

The Board agreed that to promote alcohol in connection with a prayer tradition was a depiction of material that vilified a section of the community, on the basis of their religion and that the advertisement did breach Section 2.1 of the Code.

Standard Bureau’s many standards!

It seems the Standards Bureau has many standards and applies different standards to different segments of our community.

How can a woman voicing over music about alcohol be more fundamental belief to Muslims who are guided to refrain from drinking alcohol by Islam; than presenting lamb chunks as part of meal to Lord Ganesha feasting over Lamb and Alcohol? Lord Ganesha in the scriptures is a vegetarian God purest and most revered God – who is fundamental to all Hindus all over the world.

In the case of 2013 complaint by Islamic community, mere suggestive use of music of call to prayer invoked the fundamental belief of that community while in the current case, it is the God himself shown as indulging in things absolutely unthinkable by any Hindu God.

Commentators should be cautious meddling in affairs foreign to their area of expertise, and thus understanding. No one can be expert in everything, unless you accept “Jack” to be the “Master”. One could forgive Tom Elliott for foolishly wasting his energy on the issue. An avowed atheist, he would have no idea of how it feels to see your God being the butt of a joke – that too in a context absolutely opposite to your religious beliefs and understanding – seeing Him being suggested ‘feasting on Lamb and Alcohol’.

Laughing at yourself we should all learn, I agree but not poking fun at one’s God; if MLA wanted to poke fun at Hindus, should have chosen a Hindu character – human being rather than a GOD. For a healthy society, all of its constituents should be able to respect each other’s sensibilities – at all times, including when having fun.

And finally to those who are – after being vanquished by the ASB decision – calling all to move on – a plant once uprooted starts to decay; one’s fundamental beliefs create one’s edifice and thus existence.

If you are hurt, there is no shame or embarrassment to register it; it does not belittle you, it only makes you equal to others – you are only claiming your right to be not hurt.                      -DM

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