COMPLAINTS about misrepresentation of religious figures appearing in Meat and Livestock Australia’s (MLA) latest lamb promotion campaign have been dismissed by the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB).
Four different actions were lodged with the ASB about the ‘You Never Lamb Alone’ advertising in television, internet and social media clips, with the decisions handed down yesterday rejecting MLA’s alleged religious discrimination and vilification.
The television advertisement depicts religious and mythical leaders or gods sitting at a table at a BBQ sharing a meal centred on lamb, including Thor, Aphrodite, Jesus, Moses, Buddha and Lord Ganesha.
“It is very disturbing that they have shown no respect to another religion and their beliefs,” one of the complaints said.
“Hindu gods are not for marketing purposes and one should think before taking this type of advertising.
“I find this religious flavour in bad taste.
“I'm a Hindu and I see this commercial degrading our religion not just for me but millions of people who believe and have faith in this religion.
“Buddha is vegan and loves all creatures and it is against the Buddhist religion to drink alcohol.
“Lord Ganesha is not a meat eater or drinker and god from any religion/culture should not be shown to promote a product - this is unacceptable and has offended me and other from my culture.”
However, a statement from MLA welcomed the ASB’s dismissal of the complaints which had suggested the Advertising Standards Code had been breached in the latest lamb advertising campaign.
“Like previous “You Never Lamb Alone” campaigns, this year’s spring lamb campaign seeks to promote the value of unity and inclusivity,” MLA said.
“There was never an intention to offend - rather we wanted to ensure that we were as inclusive as possible.
“To this end, those religions that don’t typically eat red meat are not shown consuming lamb in the advertisement, but are still invited to the table.
“MLA advertisements have a history of being irreverent and jovial, but we are a responsible advertiser acting always with the intent of adhering to the Advertising Standards Code.”
MLA said the outcome of the ASB process reflected its ongoing commitment to the Code and to responsible advertising.
“MLA has received feedback from across the community regarding the spring lamb campaign, the majority of which has been positive,” it said.
“However some community members have registered concerns and we acknowledge and respect that feedback.
“As with every campaign that MLA conducts, we will consider all of the feedback that we have received in future creative development.
“MLA develops all of its campaigns - including this latest Lamb campaign - with the positive intent of celebrating the diversity and inclusivity of Australia.”
But US based Hindu statesman Rajan Zed said the ASB decision clearly signalled that the current system of so-called advertising “self-regulation” wasn’t working effectively in Australia.
He urged Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce to impose a fine on the producer-owned MLA, saying the levy-funded research and marketing agency shouldn’t be in the business of playing with the sentiments of communities, with the public money it receives.
“With ad campaigns like MLA’s ‘You Never Lamb Alone’, which had created more negative vibe than positive one, Australia should be concerned about expanding its meat and livestock exports to over 100 countries and producers should be worried about profitability,” he said.
In its response to the ASB process, MLA said the complainants appeared to allege that the advertisement discriminated or vilified people on account of their religious beliefs, in particular those who follow the Hindu faith but “this interpretation is unfounded”.
“In fact, the advertisement celebrates religious diversity and does not promote any act of discrimination, prejudice or vilification,” it said.
“The guests at the dinner table are clearly intended to be symbolic of modern day people who follow different faiths such as Christianity, Hinduism, Scientology and ‘no religion’ in the case of the dinner party host.
“The advertisement portrays that, while there are many topics upon which different religions diverge, maybe lamb can bring everyone together.
“In creating the advertisement, MLA undertook appropriate research and consulted with two external experts in the field of multi-faith religious studies from Australian Universities.
“Feedback from those experts was taken into account at various stages during the creative process and in finalising the advertisement.”
MLA said some complainants had suggested the advertisement was offensive to Hindus because it associated Ganesh - and therefore the Hindu faith - with eating lamb or drinking alcohol.
But its submission said “our understanding is that the Hindu faith does not forbid meat eating and that, while many Hindus abstain from eating beef - given the sacred nature of the cow to the faith - lamb is not similarly characterised”.
“We acknowledge that many Hindus may nevertheless choose to abstain from eating any form of meat, however our understanding is that it is not a central tenet of the faith - contrasted with, for example, the Muslim faith and alcohol,” it said.
“We note that Ganesh is not shown eating lamb or drinking alcohol at any point in the advertisement.
“We were informed that the actor who played the role of Ganesh was a practising Hindu man.”
In its determination, the ASB board said the depiction of a group of characters representing god and other religious, spiritual and iconic figures eating a meal together wasn’t a breach of Section 2.1 of the Code, on account of religion.
“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 ruling said.
“The Board noted that the 2016 Census reports that Hindu is the tenth most prevalent religion in Australia and that people of Indian decent are also the fifth largest group in Australia.
“The Board considered that the Indian population and those of Hindu religion are not a disadvantaged or minority population for the consideration of whether or not material is vilifying.”
The ASB ruling said the Board also noted that while many Hindus are vegetarian, vegetarianism is not a requirement of the Hindu faith.
“The majority of the Board considered that the depiction of Lord Ganesha is, as the advertiser suggests, symbolic of the Hindu faith and his inclusion is part of the message of an inclusive multi faith meal,” it said.
“The majority noted that Lord Ganesha is not shown to consume any meat during the advertisement.
“The majority of the Board also noted that Lord Ganesha does not drink alcohol and considered that the advertiser had taken care to show him toasting with a glass of water.
“The majority of the Board considered that the depiction of Lord Ganesha was overall a positive and depiction and that his inclusion in a scene that might suggest he can eat meat is not less favourable than the manner in which the other religions are also depicted.
“For example the Board noted that the overall tone is humorous in relation to the depiction of many of the other figures – particularly Jesus, Zeus and L Ron Hubbard.
“The majority of the Board also considered that the depiction of Lord Ganesha in a meat eating context, when there is no depiction of him eating meat, is not of itself treatment that is likely to incite ridicule or to people of the Hindu faith.”