An advertising campaign by Donald Trump, the US property tycoon, attacking Alex Salmond’s support for wind farms will this week be condemned as “misleading” by the UK government’s advertising watchdog.
The Sunday Herald has learnt that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will publish on Wednesday a damning ruling on adverts that appeared in Scottish newspapers in December. The adverts linked the First Minister’s backing for wind power to the Scottish government’s decision to free the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi.
The ruling, the second against Trump’s anti-wind farm campaign in Scotland, has been welcomed by environmental groups and wind lobbyists. But it has prompted the Trump Organisation, which confirmed the ruling against it, to berate the ASA for being “disorganised, inefficient and wasteful”.
The adverts featured a picture of a forest of wind turbines on a hill overlooking a motorway in California under the heading “Is this the future for Scotland?” Below was a photograph of Salmond smiling and giving the thumbs up.
“Tourism will suffer and the beauty of the country is in jeopardy,” said the text. “This is the same mind that backed the release of terrorist al-Megrahi ‘for humane reasons’ after he ruthlessly killed 270 people on Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie.”
The adverts, which ran in the Aberdeen Press and Journal and the Dundee Courier on 14 December 2012, prompted 21 complaints to the ASA. They argued that the text and imagery were misleading, and the reference to al-Megrahi offensive.
The ASA has concluded that the claim that tourism would suffer “could not be substantiated”. The picture implying that a wind farm in Scotland would look like the turbines in California was “misleading”, it said.
On both counts Trump has broken the advertising rules, and the ASA has banned the adverts from appearing again. It told Trump “not to make claims unless they could be substantiated with robust evidence and not to use misleading imagery.”
According to online reports, the ASA ruled that readers were likely to find the reference to al-Megrahi “distasteful” but not offensive. Hence it didn’t breach the advertising standards code.
Alex Doyle from the pro-wind lobby group, yes2wind, welcomed the ruling. “There are often a lot of myths regarding wind energy,” he told offshorewind.biz. “The misleading Trump advert is a prime example.”
The environmental group, WWF Scotland, criticised Trump for failing to grasp the facts. “The advert was pretty distasteful, and it's now been shown to be factually wrong too,” said the group’s director, Lang Banks.
Trump has launched legal action against the Scottish government’s decision last month to give the go-ahead to a wind farm off the Aberdeenshire coast where he has opened his controversial golf course.
“If the evidence to be presented at his forthcoming court challenge is as flimsy as that used to create this misleading advert then it's likely to be a very short case,” argued Banks.
But George Sorial, executive vice president and counsel for the Trump Organisation in New York, unleashed a fierce counter-attack. Advocates of wind turbines were “deluded and ignorant” and were “promoting the deliberate mutilation of their own economy, environment, coastline and countryside,” he said.
According to Sorial, the advert had been approved in advance by the Committee of Advertisement Practice (CAP), an industry body that works with the ASA. “We actually wanted the content to be much stronger because Scotland is facing an economic and environmental meltdown,” he said.
“The fact that the ASA has now clearly contradicted the advice of the CAP demonstrates how disorganised, inefficient and wasteful these agencies are. A public watchdog group should be investigating them.”
The ASA confirmed that it had investigated complaints into Trump’s latest adverts, but declined to comment on the outcome. In September 2012, the ASA upheld complaints about earlier anti-wind farm adverts by Trump, ruling that they were misleading. Trump was told then not to exaggerate the impact of wind turbines.
After being contacted by the Sunday Herald, the ASA asked offshorewind.biz to remove the story from its website. It was taken down on Friday afternoon, though was still visible via internet search engines. Another report from Aberdeen Voice could be seen here. The ASA published its ruling on 24th April.
This story prompted a response from the Scottish Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, and was followed up by The Scotsman, The Herald, The Times, Scottish Television, The Courier, The Sun, The Drum, The Guardian and others.