Opinion: Hot issue - Was it right to tone down the prostate advert?

Last week, the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre insisted on removing the 'squish' sound effect from a radio ad - intended to raise awareness of prostate cancer - about a doctor conducting a digital rectal examination.

NO - Peter Baker, director, Men's Health Forum

The Radio Advertising Clearance Centre's preposterous decision - later revised - to ban a prostate cancer awareness ad by the comedian Ricky Gervais from being aired before 9pm displayed two fundamental errors of thinking.

The first was to underestimate people's intelligence. In seeking to prevent the ad from running during the day, when many of its target audience listen to the radio, the centre assumed that people's sensitivities would be affected by reference to a digital rectal examination with a brief sound effect. This is patently ridiculous in an age when the media often discuss sex in very explicit terms. It is blinkered attitudes such as these that hinder progress towards better awareness of prostate cancer, which kills 10,000 men in the UK every year.

The second error was to overlook the fact that many men respond to humour when thinking about their health. This advertisement carries a serious message, but does so in a humorous way. It highlights a common medical procedure, because this is what many men fear most about discussing prostate problems with a doctor.

So let's have more humorous adverts about men's health, and let's hope that next time the radio authorities behave much more sensibly.

YES - Yvonne Kintoff, manager, RACC

We advised that the one-second 'squish' sound effect be replaced with stunned silence. We did not feel that the removal of the original sound effect would detract from the very important men's health information message or the humorous scenario. The advertising agency said that the 'squish' sound effect was "intentionally over the top".

The RACC's role is to take a view, prior to broadcast, on the likely reactions of radio consumers who listen to advertisements on commercial radio stations and minimise any offence being caused to them.

The RACC takes difficult decisions in matters of taste and offence in radio ads every day, and we maintain that our decision was a reasonable consumer protection one.

We felt that this particular sound effect, in the context of a sensitive subject (a humorous portrayal of a doctor's digital rectal examination of his embarrassed patient), may be regarded by some listeners as a scatological joke that might cause offence.

Although some listeners may have laughed at the 'squish', we felt that others would have found the sound effect on the crude side. Is the insertion of a digit into a moist or moistened rectum to every listener's taste over his or her bowl of cornflakes?

NO - Ian Beaumont, director of press, PR and public affairs, Bowel Cancer UK

If you took a straw poll about the way cancer is viewed in the UK in 2005, compared with even ten years ago, you would see just how far we have come in terms of making the disease much more acceptable for people to talk about and, even more importantly, do something about.

One of the reasons people are more positive about cancer is the increasing use of humour to tackle this previously taboo subject.

When used well, as with the Prostate Cancer Charity's campaign, humour is a powerful weapon that not only raises awareness, but brings people together. It makes them less afraid - in part because they feel less alone - helps them to overcome the stigma and diffuses the 'fear factor' that has for so long gripped our perception of the disease.

With the help of humour, our society is now much more able to address cancer issues and campaign for them. The disease is no longer considered to be a guaranteed death sentence, something dirty and hidden that must not be spoken about, but something that people can conquer and gain strength from overcoming.

Humour has a key role to play in making this possible and its use should be encouraged, not stifled.

NO - John Neate, chief executive, Prostate Cancer Charity

The Radio Advertising Clearance Centre's decision to censor and restrict the airing times for our Ricky Gervais prostate cancer advertisement was an error of judgement. I do not believe the advert is offensive, rude or crude. Instead, it deals humorously with a common medical investigation that can help diagnose prostate cancer.

I am hugely encouraged by the overwhelming public outcry that followed the RACC's original decision.

This reaction tells me that there is finally a sizeable body of public opinion that understands the issue of prostate cancer well enough to grasp the need to wake up to its realities - and to our collective responsibility to deal with it.

The RACC's original decision to restrict our advert was perhaps not surprising.

It was dealing with new ground and may be struggling to find a benchmark against which to make its decision. It has now been able to test the public mood extensively, and it has heard an emphatic verdict.

Let's hope we have established a new level of appreciation for the significance of this disease - the most common cancer diagnosed in men - and the need to overcome taboos in discussing it. I believe this is a good start.

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