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Family First's 'offensive' flyer ruled okay

By Kieran Campbell

Watchdog cites free speech for rejecting complaint against anti-gay marriage pamphlet.

The Advertising Standards Authority says the pamphlet meets the test for "robust expression of belief or opinion". Photo / Supplied
The Advertising Standards Authority says the pamphlet meets the test for "robust expression of belief or opinion". Photo / Supplied

A complaint about an anti-gay marriage brochure, criticised as being "extraordinarily offensive", has been dismissed by the country's advertising watchdog on the grounds of freedom of speech.

Family First's "21 great reasons to keep marriage as is" pamphlet equates same-sex marriage with incest and paedophilia, denigrates children of same-sex couples and is hurtful to single-parent families, the Advertising Standards Authority heard.

The complainant said the brochure was "inflammatory, largely incorrect and was filled with biases". It was "extraordinarily offensive".

However the authority, quoting parts of the code of ethics, has ruled that the complaint against the brochure should be dismissed because of the importance of free speech.

While the authority said there were "sincere concerns of ... offence caused by the brochure", the allowance for "robust expression of belief or opinion, irrespective of the message", meant the pamphlet was allowed.

"Accordingly, the [authority] chairman said that there was no apparent breach of the Advertising Codes and therefore no grounds for the complaint to proceed," the authority said in its decision.

The authority's finding comes as opponents to the Marriage Equality Bill make a last-ditch bid for politicians to vote against the legislation.

Crowds are expected to fill Parliament's galleries for the historic moment on Wednesday when the bill is tipped to pass its final reading.

Family First director Bob McCoskrie said more than 15,000 people had signed a web-based pledge to vote against any electorate MP who supports the bill, and against any party whose leader supports it.

The Family First brochure, on the party's website, lists "21 great reasons" to not change the Marriage Act and asks readers to "help us find 21+ more politicians who will stand up for marriage".

One of the points on the list - titled "What next?" - says that if marriage is redefined once, it could be redefined again to allow polygamous and "incest-type" marriages.

Other points in the pamphlet include "equality is not sameness", "mum and dad matter", and "an ideology forced on all".

The authority said the code of ethics allowed for "robust expression of belief or opinion"; however, it had to be "clearly distinguishable from factual information" and an advertiser's public or political interests should be clear.

It said the "right of freedom of expression ... is not absolute as there could be an infringement of other people's rights".

"People have the right to express their views and this right should not be unduly or unreasonably restricted by rules."

Marriage Equality spokesman Conrad Reyners said although the pamphlet had caused offence, its arguments were weak and were not slowing the bill's progress through Parliament.

- APNZ

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