On the 26th of November, the
Australian Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) dismissed complaints
against Exit International’s billboard advertising campaign that ran in
Sydney. The billboard, white writing on purple
background, displayed the text: 85% of Australians Support Voluntary
Euthanasia. Our Government Doesn’t! Make them Listen.

The ASB received a number of complaints,
some focussed, others expressing a more general sense of outrage. A
number made the suggestion that the claims made were misleading (more on
that later). A large number focussed more directly on the problem with
promoting suicide.

Australia has a significant problem with
youth suicide in particular. Australian media and those working with
children and young people are extremely sensitive about the mention or
portrayal of suicide in any manner. Any television program that contains
even a remote connection bears a warning and also the contact details
for support organisations such as Life Line or Beyond Blue
in the credits. But television advertising is covered by a different
code of practice, administered by a different agency, Free TV Australia.

In September this year, Free TV upheld
a complaint against an Exit television commercial that featured an
actor playing a dying man. In its statement, Free TV commented: The
Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice states that material
which promotes or encourages suicide will invariably be unsuitable for

In October Free TV refused to allow a
different television commercial by Dying with Dignity Victoria that,
whilst obviously visual, made virtually the same point as the Exit
billboard. They commented that: Realistic depiction of methods of
suicide, or promotion or encouragement of suicide is unsuitable for
broadcast. Also adding that it: could reasonably be argued that
the advertisement promotes or encourages voluntary euthanasia.  This is
because the advertisement seeks to de-stigmatise, normalise and
legalise voluntary euthanasia.

Free TV Australia made the appropriate
connection between public advertising on euthanasia and suicide, even
going so far as to suggest that advertising about euthanasia itself was ipso
facto unsuitable for broadcast.

The ASB, in complete contrast adjudged
that the Exit advertisement was, “not encouraging or condoning suicide,
rather it is encouraging the lobbying of Government on the issue of
euthanasia.” The ASB Board added that the advertisement did not breach
section 2.6 of the Code in that it did not depict ‘material contrary to
Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety.’

The ASB dismissed out of hand complaints
that the Exit billboard was misleading. The Board determined, in the
first instance, that the complaints received related to section 2 of the
Code (in particular section 2.6 mentioned above). Defying logic, the
judgment then goes on to refer to the complaints in respect to ‘truth
and accuracy of the quoted statistics’ concluding that such claims are
‘not within section 2 of the Code, and is therefore an issue which the
Board cannot consider when making its determination.’ This is rather
like saying: an apple is not an orange; oranges are a fruit; therefore
an apple is not a fruit. Utter nonsense!

Section 1.2 of the Code says that: Advertising
or Marketing Communications shall not be misleading or deceptive or be
likely to mislead or deceive. While it would need to be proven for
the sake of the complaint, it is very clear that even though the polls
referred to did return a result of 85% for the proposition, the claim
that this translates into 85% approval of euthanasia is false. At best,
it could only be claimed that those polled agreed with the proposition,
however, the poll question does not describe euthanasia as it is
practiced or euthanasia as proposed in any particular legislative form. 

This brings us to the claim that the
material in the billboard did not contravene ‘Community Standards’. The
ASB reserves unto itself the right to define such standards. However,
the very fact that euthanasia remains illegal in every Australian state
and territory should play a very large part in any determination of
standards. But not according to the ASB it seems. It is also naive in
the extreme to blandly propose that the billboard in question was about
‘encouraging the lobbying of Government on the issue of euthanasia’.
Exit’s strategy, like that of every euthanasia lobby in Australia, is to
beat the public about the head with the 85% quote until we all accept
the inevitable, get out of their way and let them have what they want.
Apparently advertising people don’t understand advertising and

Paul Russell is Director and founder of the
national network
HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia &
Assisted Suicide
. Paul has been involved in campaigning and
lobbying on
family and pro-life policy for many years in South Australia and


Paul Russell is director and founder of the national network HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide. Paul has been involved in...