In early November the Transport for London (TfL) removed Free Balochistan adverts from London black
cabs after pressure from the Pakistani government.
The World Baloch Organisation, which advocates for rights of the ethnic Balochs who live in the Balochistan regions straddling Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, launched its campaign on London's black cabs to highlight the war crimes and human
rights abuses of the Islamabad government. The #FreeBalochistan adverts carry slogans saying Stop enforced disappearances and Save the Baloch people
The British High Commissioner in Islamabad was summoned to appear before the Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Tehmina Janjua, on Friday over the adverts which they said directly attack its territorial integrity and sovereignty.
Unsurprisingly TfL were quick to get the adverts off their property and to apologise for the offence, and this seems to have done the trick for them.
The UK advert censors at ASA have also got caught up in international complaints resulting from the TfL campaign particularly as the adverts have now appeared more widely on advertising spaces that are not related to TfL.
Now clearly ASA don't want to get involved in the political content of campaign advertising so their rules are more about offence and honest claims about products. So ASA responded to complaints noting that the adverts did not breach their
deliberately apolitical advertising rules. Unfortunately the subtlety of not breaking rules has been interpreted more as approving the adverts. As explained in an
article from thehindu.com
The High Commission of Pakistan and a member of the public had referred the advert to the ASA, arguing the slogan Free Balochistan was irresponsible and offensive to the Pakistani diaspora and an attack on the sovereignty and territorial
integrity of Pakistan.
In a letter to the World Baloch Organisation, which is running the campaign in London, ASA confirmed that it would not pursue the matter any further as there did not appear to be a breach of the code. The advertiser had a right to express their
views, despite the issue of Baloch independence being a politically sensitive issue. The ASA's role was to assess what appeared within the ads, rather than making a broader judgment about the intent of the ad, or the political cause, being
The ASA Council considered that the tagline '#FreeBalochistan' was an invitation to find out more about a particular political campaign itself, and the ad itself did not make any specific claim that threatened the territorial integrity or
sovereignty of Pakistan... the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence to members of the public in general.
#FreeBalochistan campaigners were clearly delighted and hailed the decision by ASA to allow a billboard campaign by the organisation to remain in place. Bhawal Mengal, the WBO's London spokesperson said:
Justice has prevailed. The ASA has affirmed that our campaign is within the U.K.'s rules and regulations. Moreover it has proved that Pakistan's narrative to malign our campaign is baseless and deceitful.
Of course the Pakistan government is not so delighted: The Pakistan High Commission says it's reviewing the ASA's decision and
article from thenews.com.pk
reports a source sating that Pakistan High Commission will now launch legal action against the ASA.
A spokesman for the Pakistan High Commission said that the ASA's response has been received which is being reviewed. The spokesman said that further course of action will be announced soon. It is an ongoing matter and we are in touch with the ASA.