The ad watchdog has admitted it is powerless to act over a JD Wetherspoon Brexit-themed mailing, which was delivered to hundreds of thousands of UK homes late last month, despite receiving scores of complaints.
Having scrapped its own email database in 2017, and then pulled its social media accounts last year, the pub chain sent out an abridged 48-page version of its in-house quarterly publication, Wetherspoon News, through Royal Mail at the end of last month.
The magazine included a double-page spread penned by chairman and prominent Leave campaigner Tim Martin on what he branded the “Circle of Deceit” surrounding the Brexit debate.
However, the publication has triggered a strong reaction online with many taking to Twitter and Facebook to complain about what they saw as “propaganda”.
One tweeted: “You can take your propaganda and your fake real ale support and get out of my mailbox. Thanks. I did not ask for your bile to be printed on dead trees, nor did I give you consent to receive your adverts.”
Another wrote: “I’d rather quench my thirst by sipping from a muddy puddle than frequent a Wetherspoons, so I really resent them sullying my letterbox.”
The pub chain told HuffPost UK copies of its magazine had been returned to its head office and that it had received a “small number” of phone calls, some of which had been abusive.
However, a spokesman claimed the magazine was “balanced”, with articles for and against Britain’s exit from the EU. “Tim’s views are well known but he’s always tried to be measured, unlike social media,” he added.
The Advertising Standards Authority has confirmed that it has received 71 complaints so far, but despite calls for change, the regulator currently has no power over political advertising.
The watchdog added: “Having carefully assessed the complaints, we consider this material falls outside our remit, [and is] not covered by our rules, and therefore we will not be taking any further action.”
The Electoral Commission said: “As there is no election or referendum period in place at this time, the literature that Wetherspoon’s has distributed is not covered by electoral law.”
It is not known whether the company plans to repeat the mailing.
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