The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that the advert “must not appear again in its current form” or imply in future that the pandas were “provided without payment”, when in fact Edinburgh Zoo is paying £600,000 a year to the Chinese government for the next ten years as part of a loan deal.
The Scottish Government’s newspaper advert claimed that China had “gifted” the pandas – male Yang Guang and female Tian Tian – to the zoo in a “symbolic gesture of friendship” between Scotland and the Beijing government.
Following a complaint from the animal rights group Scotland for Animals, which claimed that the advert wrongly portrayed the pandas as a free gift, the ASA ruled yesterday that the panda loan was a “commercial arrangement” .
Lothians Green MSP Alison Johnstone said that the ruling showed that it “simply isn’t credible” to describe the pandas as a gift as she attacked the Scottish Government for taking out the advert.
She said: “I hope this ruling had shed some light on the spin we’ve had from the Scottish Government.
“The fact remains that millions of pounds are being paid for the pandas by the zoo to the Chinese.”
John Patrick, spokesman for Scotland for Animals, welcomed the ruling as he criticised the Scottish Government’s panda loan from China as “a shabby financial transaction using live animals as currency”.
The ASA finding said: “Although we acknowledged that the Scottish Government had not made any payment, we considered that the sum paid by the charity that owned Edinburgh Zoo would be considered by consumers to be a commercial arrangement.
“In the absence of text stating that the ‘gift’ was in exchange for a substantial payment, we considered that the claim ‘in a symbolic gesture of friendship between the countries’ in conjunction with the terms ‘gift’ and ‘gifting’, implied that the pandas were provided by China for free.
“Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.”
The ASA threw out a further complaint from Scotland for Animals, including one that said that the pandas were not a sufficently Scottish issue to require inclusion on a conservation programme.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are disappointed by the ASA’s recommendation to uphold one part of this complaint. However, we will of course comply with the ASA ruling.”