‘Provocative’ poster pulled from ad campaign after the Vatican complains

I AM outraged! The BBC yesterday carried a report that a Benetton poster depicting Pope Ratzinger kissing a top Egyptian imam had been pulled after complaints from the Vatican.

It’s not the pulling of the ad that annoyed me so much as the fact that the lily-livered Beeb chose not to reproduce the poster. Instead is used another image from the clothing company’s newest Unhate campaign, aimed at fostering tolerance and “global love”.

Other media, however, have had no such reservations. A quick dip into Google this morning showed it on a large number of sites, including The Huffington Post and CBC News – and I am sure it will have gone viral by the end of the day.

One hour after the Vatican went apeshit over the poster, it reportedly disappeared off Benetton’s website. A Benetton spokesman confirmed that the Pope ad is no longer part of its campaign.

The offending advert formed part of the clothing company’s new ‘Unhate’ campaign which features world leaders who are often at loggerheads, such as President Obama and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, locking lips.

Alessandro Benetton, deputy chairman of Benetton Group , said of the campaign:

It means not hating. In a moment of darkness, with the financial crisis, what’s going on in North African countries, in Athens, this is an attitude we can all embrace … While global love is still a utopia, albeit a worthy one, the invitation ‘not to hate’, to combat the ‘culture of hatred’, is an ambitious but realistic objective.

But the idea of love depicted in this manner – Ratzinger is shown smooching Ahmed el Tayyeb, imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo – was clearly too much for the Catholic Church (and, apparently the BBC).

Protesting over the mocked-up picture, Federico Lombard, a spokesman for the Pope said:

We must express the firmest protest for this absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends.

He added:

This shows a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offence to the feelings of believers, a clear demonstration of how publicity can violate the basic rules of respect for people by attracting attention with provocation.

On the company’s website, executive deputy chairman Alessandro Benetton is quoted as saying that global love is an ambitious but realistic goal. He said:

At this moment in history, so full of major upheavals and equally large hopes, we have decided, through this campaign, to give widespread visibility to an ideal notion of tolerance and invite the citizens of every country to reflect on how hatred arises particularly from fear of ‘the other’ and of what is unfamiliar to us.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn

37 responses to “‘Provocative’ poster pulled from ad campaign after the Vatican complains”

  1. Broga says:

    I am not surprised at the sensitivity of the BBC who obsessively pursue their practice of exagerrated respect for Ratzinger. This trumps candid and objective reporting every time. The examples are legion.

  2. Alistair says:

    The Vatican should be grateful it didn’t show Ratzi the Nazi kissing a small boy!

  3. Barry Duke says:

    Like this, Alistair.If you like creepy, you’ll love this:

  4. AgentCormac says:

    And there’s the nub of the problem. Religious institutions do like to hate. It’s how they show that their god and their set of misguided superstitious beliefs are infinitely superior to that set of bastards over there who claim that their god and their set of misguided superstitious beliefs are the only ones worth believing in.

  5. Broga is spot on. The BBC’s claim of objectivity and impartiality is proven again and again to not apply to the Church, and increasingly (it seems) the Catholic Church. Another area where thy fail is in their toadying and uncritical coverage of the Royal Family, but that’s another story…

    I think it’s worth writing to the BBC to complain about their reporting of this Benetton campaign since, as a publicly-funded broadcaster, they have a duty to respect everyone’s views and it won’t just be those of us who comment here who object to their refusal to publish the picture in question.

    Incidentally, what on earth does Federico Lombard mean when he says that this is “an offence to the feelings of believers”? How can you actually offend feelings? Surely a feeling is an emotional reaction? So isn’t it being upset that is the feeling?

    What he means, of course, is that it’s offensive to the opinions and views of believers which is an entirely different thing but shows up the intolerance of his position rather more clearly.

  6. tony e says:

    The vile BBC, who prides itself on being possibly the most pc public institution in the UK, is shown again to be governed by hypocrites.

    What a surprise.

  7. barriejohn says:

    Great publicity for Bennneton – again!

    PS Can anyone explain this bizarre use of the word “provocation”? What, precisely, is he being “provoked” to do? (Seems as if the Catholics have more in common with the muzzies than they care to think!)

  8. barriejohn says:

    When are we going to be able to edit comments again?

  9. SimonJ says:

    “This shows a grave lack of respect for the Pope”
    Yes, and ?

  10. AgentCormac says:

    “We must express the firmest protest for this absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends.”

    What they mean is, hands off – we’re the only ones allowed to make millions out of our religion! I’m surprised they haven’t trademarked god, the pope, the cross and the word Jesus yet.

    (And like barriejohn, I wish we could still edit our own comments.)

  11. AngieRS says:

    Nice idea, Benetton, shame you bottled it.

  12. Lilburn Lowell Decker says:

    Ok, I’m an atheist and I often criticize the Vatican and the Roman Catholic church but I side with them on this. After all, it is a “mocked up picture”—in other words it’s phony. We freethinkers object to photos being falsified by governments or advertizers so how, if we’re intellectually honest, can find this manipulation acceptable? If you can’t support your cause without falsification, then perhaps there’s something wrong with your cause or the spokespersons

  13. AngieRS says:

    Think you’re missing the point, aren’t you? Why withdraw the pope picture and show another in its place. If you object to one, why do you not object to the one of Obama? Has any one from the Whitehouse made anything like the fuss the catholic church has made, or even made any at all? I rather doubt it.

  14. sailor1031 says:

    “This shows a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offence to the feelings of believers….”

    How do you offend feelings, I wonder? I think its the RCC Inc. executives who were offended, probably because Benetton didn’t pay a modelling fee. As for a lack of respect for the pope, I should think so too! Respect has to be earned and the rattenfaenger hasn’t earned any.

    “At this moment in history, so full of major upheavals….”. At this moment in history you’d think believers would have important stuff to be getting concerned about.

  15. Great Satan says:

    This poster is a good crack ! I hope it goes viral – though it would have been better with the Pope kissing Prisident Imadinnerjacket or Ayatollah Khameini.

  16. barriejohn says:

    Of course it’s phoney – it’s an advertising campaign! (I think the “outrage” might be phoney as well.)

    Angie: I agree. As far as I can see no one else who figures in this series of images has complained, so the RCs just make themselves look stupid again. What’s so special about the pope?

  17. Har Davids says:

    If I remember correctly, this “Pope” is the man who has been aiding and abetting pedophiles for decades, so obviously not someone who should expect any kind of respect. About time his accomplices and supporters realize that.

  18. David Anderson says:

    The other people haven’t complained possibly because they are aware of the “Stiesand effect”.

  19. […] The Freethinker brought this to my attention: […]

  20. Broga says:

    @Martin Hatter: Bias at the BBC is rife regarding religion. And that makes me wonder how much else they deal with selectively and spin. BBC censorship, Stalinist in its severity where religion and the royals are concerned, owes much to the licence fee funded propagandists they employ. These two toadies are laughingly described as “correspondents” as in “Our Religious Correspondent” and “Our Royal Correspondent.” At great expense they travel the world to provide a soapy spin on religious and royal stories.

  21. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Benetton wanted to showcase love, so why use religion? Religion is another word for hatred.

    As for the beeb, grrrrrr.

  22. barriejohn says:

    Graham: That’s the point of the ad – these characters are normally scratching one another’s eyes out. Maybe the pope didn’t like that little fact being highlighted!

  23. Stonyground says:

    @Lilburn Lowell Decker
    Personally I don’t have a problem with a picture being faked as long as it is not being passed off as real. I don’t think that there are too many folks who would be taken in by this one do you?

    I don’t really see a problem with Benetton pulling the ad. It has served its purpose by causing a fuss and is now getting passed around on the internet so that they get their advertising for free. They have relied on offended type people getting offended for around twenty years now and the idiots never learn.

  24. JohnMWhite says:

    @ Lilburn Lowell Decker – Of course it’s phony! Have you heard of the term parody? Do you know what a sense of humour is? This ad campaign is clearly not trying to make anyone think that the Pope is having an affair with an Imam. I don’t know any freethinker who objects to photos being altered for a joke or to make a point, and that is completely different from falsifying evidence to suggest something happened which did not take place. You’re missing the point by quite a wide margin by complaining that the image is unrepresentative. The fact that a demonstration of love misrepresents the Catholic church, and the church is in a rush to strenuously point that out, makes the point for Benneton. A shame they were too afraid of the Pope’s pitiful protests and caved in, and a greater shame that the BBC were pathetically craven enough to hide the image in an article specifically about it.

  25. David B says:

    Credit where credit is due – the Tory CoE Cranmer blog has an interesting post on this, in which he does show the pictures.

    He takes a rather liberal line, as I mentioned in the comments, though not all the commenters are so sanguine.

    He says, in part

    ‘Benetton has withdrawn the advertisement which shows Pope Benedict XVI kissing Islamic Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed el-Tayeb. Perhaps understandably, a number of Roman Catholics found it offensive, and Fr. Lombardi at the Holy See called it ‘unacceptable’.

    But if it be, why is not also ‘unacceptable’ to photoshop images of any world leaders kissing each other? Benetton have not pulled their posters of President Barack Obama smooching Venezuela’s Hugo Chàvez, or that of Chancellor Merkel snogging President Sarkozy.

    Are not these offensive to their followers? Do not Democrats find manipulated images of their saviour offensive? Why should religious leaders be preserved from ‘unacceptable’ parody or satire?’

    David B

  26. Broga says:

    The ad is obviously phony and it is difficult to imagine anyone thinking otherwise. But perhaps the Vatican, and their lickspittle supporters at the BBC, wanted to make another point. Ratzinger, known to them as The Holy Father, is to be so venerated and elevated above the rest of humanity that any image, not surrounded by flattering scenes, is unacceptible.

  27. JohnMWhite says:

    That may be the case, Broga, but I was hoping that even the stupidity of the Vatican would not go so far as to have the Pope start pretending he’s Mohammad and cannot be depicted without his express consent or that sort of thing. And it still betrays their complete inability to comprehend the idea that the Pope is a better, more worthwhile human being than anyone else isn’t acknowledged or appreciated by the vast majority of the world.

    Sadly the Vatican seem to be determined to damage themselves further –

    They are now pursuing legal action against Benetton and anyone in the media who shows the image.

    Thanks for the link David B, Cranmer has the right idea, on this at least. If we are to draw a line, who gets to draw it and where? And who says we should in the first place? There’s a lot of special pleading going on.

  28. AgentCormac says:

    According to the BBC News website (sorry, Broga), a large banner showing the image of the pope kissing that imam bloke was hung from a bridge near the Vatican on Wednesday morning. Talk about provoking a reaction!

    But hey, wouldn’t it have been so much better for the whole human race if that reaction had been, ‘You know what, you’re right’.

  29. Reginald Selkirk says:

    We must express the firmest protest for this absolutely unacceptable use of the image of the Holy Father, manipulated and exploited in a publicity campaign with commercial ends.

    Commercial ends = bad.

    I will use this opportunity to remind everyone that the current pope reintroduced the medieval practice of indulgences. Back in the day, this meant the forgiveness of sins in return for monetary considerations. This of course was corrupt, and is one the the things that ticked off the likes of Martin Luther.

    The current pope of course opposes corruption, so there is no quid pro quo in the return of indulgences. Rather, forgiveness of sins is granted for pilgrimages to holy sites.

    In a completely separate development, entirely unrelated; at approximately the same time (~ 2007) the Vatican introduced its own airline to fly religious pilgrims to holy sites. No nasty commercial corruption going on here.

  30. barriejohn says:

    Yes, AgentCormac – what a wonderful gesture it would have been had the Pope got on a plane to Egypt and planted a smacker on the Imam’s lips in public. I think I might have given a little cheer myself, but sadly that reaction would never have occurred to them.

    BTW What “legal action” do they intend taking precisely?

  31. Thyquest says:

    “…newest Unhate campaign, aimed at fostering tolerance and “global love”.

    OK… so those pictures are supposed to convey a message of love.
    As an atheist, let me be the Devil’s Advocate. If I was working Public Relations for the Vatican, I would cover myself by stating:

    “the Vatican objects to the use of the Pope’s public image to promote merchandise create by a company with questionable labor practices in various sweatshops around the world.

    And the BBC would add: ” Amen!”

    How about looking into Benneton’s labor practices to foster tolerance and “Global Love”?????

  32. JohnMWhite says:

    Benneton are, like most mainstream clothing manufacturers, greedy shitheads. That’s not really the issue, though. The issue is about freedom of speech, not whose laundry is cleanest. The Vatican should not have the ability to say “that offends our religion, begone with it!” and have parts of the media world toadying to comply.

  33. AngieRS says:

    Well, I complained to the BBC about why they didn’t show the picture the piece was about. Their reply;

    “Thank you for your email and your complaint. You certainly raise an interesting point and as far as I know the image in question was something we could have used. There are two arguments I would make about this; first that we do not think it is necessarily our job to do Benetton’s work for them. The old adage springs to mind that there’s only one thing worse than being talked about – and that’s not being talked about. So, I think it’s valid to show one of the pictures in the ad campaign but not necessarily the one that’s causing all the fuss.
    The second point I would make – and we have to agree to disagree on this
    – is that I don’t think it adds anything to the story if we show the picture in question and gratuitously offend Catholics and Muslims, possibly in equal measure. Other websites or publications might feel differently, but it’s not something I feel the BBC needs to do. As I say, I don’t think it adds anything to the story, other than gratuitous offence.

    I hope you can see the argument even if you may not necessarily agree with it. Thanks for your interest and your correspondence, Yours BBC Europe Desk BBC News Online.”

    Bit of a rubbish answer, it seems to me. If they don’t want to do Benettons job for them, why show any of the ads. As for causing offence, if they were that worried about causing offence, what about the offence it might cause to the families of Obama and Perez and others, do the feelings of children come second to some religious authority. Well, I guess we all know the answer to that,

  34. David Lawson says:

    If I hear someone talking about “respect” like this one more time, I might go postal

  35. Uzza says:

    There’s been one other complaint:

    “The White House has a longstanding policy disapproving of the use of the president’s name and likeness for commercial purposes,” said White House spokesman Eric Schultz in an email.

    Rather civilized, I’d say. Nothing there about offended feelers or that shite.
    As to the pix being phony, several million cute kitties have not complained.

  36. CriticalEyeYayeye says:

    Respect for the greatest protector of Pedophiles on the Planet??? I hardly think the pope deserves any respect at all…. Ask the Millions dead in Africa where he forbade the use of condoms to stem the spread of AIDS, how they feel about his Holey-Ness.

  37. Buffy says:

    This shows a grave lack of respect for the Pope, an offence to the feelings of believers, a clear demonstration of how publicity can violate the basic rules of respect for people by attracting attention with provocation.

    Why should anybody respect them when they don’t respect others?