Child-rearing tips from SIRE: opinions can (and do) differ!

In July, at around the same time as Dutch Railways announced its gender-neutral public announcement policy, the much discussed SIRE commercial was shown on TV. ‘Let boys be real boys again’ is its message. The two media announcements seemed to express contradictory positions on a hot topic in society – so gossip around the coffee machine was guaranteed. Should we expect a complaint to be filed with the Dutch Advertising Code Authority (RCC) about the SIRE commercial? Probably. But, according to the RCC, SIRE was entirely free to promote a social debate in this way. “Boys and girls are similar, but not the same” is how the SIRE TV commercial opens. We don’t let boys be boys enough, and this holds back their development. The complainant feels that this advertising campaign uses gender stereotyping. Running a national campaign that categorises children and prescribes a certain type of behaviour for them is inadmissible. Arguing the point, SIRE says that it based its position on a range of research studies. These show, for instance, that 76% of parents feel the issue should be higher on the agenda in the Netherlands. SIRE also wants people to express their different views and enter into the debate.
The President of the Dutch Advertising Code Authority assessed the complaint against the criteria of good taste and propriety, taking into account that the commercial expressed an opinion that was not commercial in nature, but whose only aim was to promote debate in society. In such cases, there is less scope for declaring a commercial to be inadmissible, which would also be a breach of freedom of expression. Furthermore, SIRE’s views were neither incorrect nor unacceptable, as it had sufficiently substantiated the existence of the problem.

In short, SIRE may certainly give parents a few child-raising tips. Perhaps not everyone appreciated its ideas, but it had certainly done its bit to raise a public debate on the issue. Mission accomplished for SIRE!

Dominique Geerts, lawyer

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