Greenpeace has criticised the Advertising Standards Authority after the watchdog banned an anti-fracking advert by the campaigning organisation on the grounds that it was misleading.
A national press advert published by Greenpeace in January said: "Fracking threatens our climate, our countryside and our water. Yet experts agree – it won’t cut our energy bills."
The ASA said that it had received a complaint from the Labour life peer Lord Lipsey, who questioned whether the claim was misleading and could be substantiated.
The ASA’s ruling on the advert, published today, says the watchdog considered that the claim "experts agree – it won’t cut our energy bills" would be interepreted by consumers to mean there was a consensus among those with informed opinions that fracking would not reduce the cost of energy bills.
The ASA acknowledged that Greenpeace had provided quotes from 22 people, groups or organisations supporting its point of view, but ruled that there was a "significant division of informed opinion on the issue".
The ruling says: "While we understood the claim was made in the context of a public debate on fracking, we considered the claim was absolute in nature and, therefore, implied the statement was accepted among informed opinion, which we understood was not the case."
The ASA therefore concluded the advert was misleading and should not appear again.
A statement from Greenpeace said the decision was "baseless, biased and frankly bonkers" and questioned the impartiality of the ASA’s chair, the Labour peer Chris Smith. As Greenpeace pointed out, Smith is also head of the Task Force on Shale Gas, a group that examines the benefits and risks of fracking – the group is funded by energy firms including Cuadrilla, Centrica and Total.
Louise Hutchins, energy and climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: "We quoted 22 different expert opinions to back up our statement that fracking won’t bring down bills. The ASA could find only the shale enthusiast David Cameron to defend the opposite view.
"This ruling also sets a very dangerous precedent. The same perverse logic could be used to ban statements about evolution or climate change on the basis that someone somewhere disagrees with the mainstream view. We can’t allow the ASA to be used as a kangaroo court to muzzle dissenting voices on controversial issues such as fracking."
A spokesman for the ASA said advertisers that had had their adverts banned were never happy, but Greenpeace had the right to ask for an independent review of the ASA’s decision within 21 days of the ruling being published.