The UK’s adverts watchdog has banned a misleading advert about 5G

23 January 2020

A post that’s been shared multiple times on Facebook reports that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK has banned an advert warning of the health risks of 5G mobile phone masts. 5G is the next generation of wireless network technology.

The post links to an article which suggests that the ASA is not independent as it is being funded by the telecoms industry.

The ASA did ban an advert earlier this month from Electrosensitivity-UK, a charity which aims to inform the public of the supposed health risks of electromagnetic radiation.

We’ve looked before at the evidence on 5G, and found there’s no evidence to suggest it is dangerous. There’s also no reason to doubt the validity of the ASA’s decision, which aligns with their published code of practice and the best available scientific evidence.

The advert asked “How safe is 5G?” and featured quotes from professionals giving their opposition to the rollout of 5G network technology. It also claimed that 5G can damage people’s health with effects including reduced male fertility, disturbed sleep and cancer.

The ASA ruled that the advert breached its advertising code and could not appear again in its current form. It felt that people would understand from the advert that there was “robust, scientific evidence that demonstrated negative human health effects caused by 5G signals”.

It said the advertiser hadn’t provided such robust research, and that the most up-to-date robust evidence from bodies such as the World Health Organisation hadn’t found any proven negative health effects of 5G.

The article linked to by the Facebook post (which mostly quotes directly from the ASA ruling) says that the ASA didn’t establish that there was any evidence to ensure that 5G is safe. It’s important to note that the ASA places the burden of proving claims made in adverts on the advertisers. According to its code:

“Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation.”

The article also suggests that the decision on the part of the ASA was influenced by its funding—writing that “The Telecom’s Industry has got into the pockets of Government agencies yet again, this time with the ASA, the UK’s advertising authority”, and filing the story in a section labelled “Corruption”.

The ASA is independent of government, and is funded by the advertising industry. In practice, that’s through a voluntary charge of 0.1% of the cost of buying advertising space or 0.2% on some direct mail. The ASA says this is an “arms-length levy”, which means it doesn’t know who is paying the charge. The funds are raised by bodies connected to the ASA but not directly involved in its decision-making on adverts.

This is the second time the ASA has ruled against an advert from Electrosensitivity-UK, having previously done so in 2018.

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