The Advertising Standards Authority has partially upheld a complaint against a Greenpeace television advertisement. The TV ad showing a dead penguin said:
Over 20,000 birds were killed by the ‘Rena’ oil spill
Deep sea oil drilling could be 1000 times worse
Bryan Leland complained pointing out that the count for the Rena was around 1,300 not 20,000 and that the 20 million estimate for a deep sea oil drill is ridiculous as the Gulf of Mexico spill killed 3,800 seabirds.
Greenpeace’s response on the 20,000 was that research shows 10 times as many birds die in oil spills as carcasses found.
Their response on 1,000 times worse is based on the Gulf spill being over 1,000 times as much oil as the Rena. They say their advertisement was meant to be that the impact on the environment would be 1,000 times worse, not that 1,000 times as many birds would die.
Interestingly in their response Greenpeace say the complaint should be ignored because Bryan Leland is a member of the Climate Science Coalition. Unable to win on the facts, they now try to get complaints dismissed on the basis of membership of a group. That is a terrible thing to do, and they should be ashamed. How would they like it if someone advocated that a complainant should not be heard, because they are a member of Greenpeace.
The ASA Complaints Board found:
The Complaints Board was of the view that the statement “20,000 birds were killed” was expressed in a manner that denoted a strong absolute statement of fact. It said that the Advertiser had presented a best practice estimate as an absolute fact when as they had stated in their response to the complaint it had only been “reported that over 2000 birds had been identified which had died as a direct result of the accident [Rena]”. Accordingly the Complaints Board said the statements expressed in the advertisement were not clearly distinguishable as opinion (as opposed to fact) and therefore the advertisement was in breach of Rule 11 of the Code of Ethics.
If Greenpeace had said “Some estimates are that as many as 20,000 birds died” then they may possibly have got away with it. Or they could have just kept to the facts and said 2,000 dead birds were found.
On the 1,000 times worse:
Turning to the second substantive claim identified in the complaint, that a deep sea drilling incident could be “1000 times worse” (than the Rena incident), the Complaints Board noted that the use of the word “could” presented the claim as an opinion or possibility as opposed to an absolute fact.
By using “could” they get away with it, despite the fact most people would take the ad to be credibly suggesting an oil spill could kill 20 million birds, when the Gulf of Mexico spill killed just 3,800.
Incidentally, even if the figure of 20 million was correct, it would be useful to remember that predators such as possums and stoats kill 25 million birds a a year in New Zealand.