Bishop criticises lamb TV ad as 'cleverly disrespectful' to faiths

Advertising Standards Board dismisses complaints against depiction of faiths in advertisement promoting lamb consumption

Bishop Philip Huggins said the advertisement was insensitive to Hindus, as well as to Christians. "Like most depictions of my faith in the public domain, this ad just left me feeling sad."

By Mark Brolly

September 29 2017 

The Advertising Standards Board has dismissed complaints about a Meat and Livestock Australia television advertisement promoting lamb consumption that attracted complaints of offence, particularly to Hindus and Christians, and which Melbourne Assistant Bishop Philip Huggins described as “cleverly disrespectful”.

The ad depicts various religious figures, including Jesus, the Hindu deity Ganesha and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, enjoying an outdoor meal at which lamb is served.

India’s High Commission in Canberra made a “demarche” (“a diplomatic step, petition or protest”) to the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Communication and Arts and to the Department of Agriculture to alert them to the advertisement “that hurt the religious sentiments of the Indian community”.

“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,” the High Commission said in a statement on 8 September.

“A number of (Indian) Community Associations have also registered their protest with Government of Australia and Meat and Livestock Australia.”

Bishop Huggins, who is active in ecumenical and interfaith relations, issued a statement during General Synod on 6 September, saying that many Anglicans shared the disappointment and anger of Australia’s Hindu community at the “insensitive and disrespectful advertisement for lamb being run by Meat and Livestock Australia”.

He said the advertisement not only portrayed the vegetarian Ganesh eating meat, but put Jesus Christ at the same table as L. Ron Hubbard and trivialised one of Jesus’ most beautiful miracles (turning water into wine).

“The advertisement is cleverly disrespectful,” Bishop Huggins said. “It seems that for an ad to stand out there has to be some bizarre or shocking component. Otherwise the fear is it will not be noticed.”

He said he knew that complaining about the ad would draw attention to it, but silence on such an insulting portrayal might be taken as tacit acceptance.

“Australia’s wool industry has thrived for more than two centuries without having to insult anyone to sell its product,” Bishop Huggins said, adding that his family had been sheep farmers from the early 19th century, persisting through drought, flood, and the fluctuations of the market. Like many farmers, they always had deep respect for the stoic and uncomplaining nature of their flocks, for this land and profound gratitude to the Creator of all that is.

“Like most depictions of my faith in the public domain, this ad just left me feeling sad,” he said.

In a ruling on 13 September, the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) said the advertisement did not breach the Australian Association of National Advertisers Code of Ethics, particularly Section 2.1, which states: "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, mental illness or political belief.”

The ASB finding said: “Following considerable discussion the majority of the Board 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.

“The majority of the Board acknowledged that some members of the community would find the advertisement to be offensive to Hindus, Buddhists, and those who do not eat lamb for religious or other reasons but considered that the actual content does not discriminate against or vilify a person or section of the community on account of their religion.

“The Board considered that the use of Jesus in an advertisement is not of itself a breach of Section 2.1… and that it has previously considered advertisements which make light of religious concepts… Overall the Board considered that the imagery depicted in the advertisement, including images of Jesus making a joke about God, performing a ‘reverse miracle’ and generally being depicted as the slightly annoying most popular ‘god’, and the association of lamb consumption with Christianity does not denigrate Christianity or Christians and would be seen by most people as a humorous depiction and reference to key Christian figures and a humorous play on well-known biblical stories with no reflection on the beliefs underpinning any of the scenes…

“The Board determined that the advertisement did not breach Section 2.1 of the Code. Finding that the advertisement did not breach the Code on other grounds, the Board dismissed the complaints.”

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), in a 25 September statement headed “New lamb campaign unites Australians”, defended the advertisement and the wider Spring Lamb marketing campaign, though it also said the ad would no longer be telecast.

MLA’s Group Marketing Manager, Mr Andrew Howie, said: “The Spring Lamb campaign is a fully integrated campaign, made up of many elements outside the ad and online content that has been seen so far in market. The use of the ad on TV has now completed and other elements such as outdoor advertising, influencer activity and point of sale promotions are currently continuing in market, ultimately growing awareness, driving consumption of Australian Lamb and delivering value back to levy payers (such as farmers and processors).

“As a brand, Lamb stands for unity and inclusivity. This campaign, like all before it, celebrates what it is to be Australian by highlighting the diverse face of the nation and what all Aussies, no matter your religious background, culture or beliefs bring to the table.

“The new integrated campaign continues with the theme that Lamb is the dish that brings everyone together, with the creative content for online, social and TV showing the gods, goddesses and prophets of different faiths and beliefs coming together over Lamb at a modern-day spring barbecue.

“This campaign is designed to encourage Australian consumers to consider and purchase Lamb during this peak production period in Australia.”

The advertisement is the latest MLA promotion to arouse controversy in recent years, including ones featuring former league footballer Sam Kekovich and a satire about waves of boat people, including the First Fleet, arriving in Australia.