Project Truth is the first, and most successful, Irish online pro-life message. This beautiful advert was first produced for radio, but was banned by an Irish government body! So we took the powerful script, added some amazing images of the pre-born child, added music and put it online.
Project Truth now has over 160,000 views and rising. Watch it, share it, and please donate if you'd like others to see it too.
We got a call from a crisis pregnancy counsellor who suggested that if counsellors could have the Project Truth advert on their iphone / pod, they could show it to women contemplating an abortion. She felt it would save lives. We kinda agreed.
This article was written in 1996 after the Project Truth Campaign and the subsequent banning of the advert
A trait of late twentieth century thinking is a comforting desire to make everything individualistic. But in matters of fact, especially fact compounded by instinct, truth must be objective. My opinion of abortion does not and cannot change what it is. And much as our collective conscience tries to ignore it, the truth about abortion rankles. The desire to make the reality of abortion as circumstantial as the hard cases used to promote it, is contrived, clever and malicious. Speaking the truth is not claiming a monopoly, it is a recognition that it cannot be ignored.
There is a terrible sickness in a world that uses self importance to excuse the murder of a child. Most of the western World has smugly and horribly decided to give to each of us the power of life and death, the power to ignore fact, to distort reality, to kill the reason for our existence, our future generations. Ibsen reminds us never to go to fight for freedom and truth with our best trousers on. If deceit has become a comfortable reliance amongst the ostrich apers, then we may not expect an easy passage if we interfere with that stultifying silence. For more than a year Youth Defence planned, worked and prayed for Project Truth. It was to be a new and badly needed departure using the overriding influence of our times - advertising - to recreate what our times has lost. During that year what was a dream became a reality.
As truth is the first casualty of war, Youth Defence has always not only in words but by our actions insisted that information about abortion be realistic, factual and widely available, a crucial line of defence against the war on the unborn.
We decided then that any major campaign must not be lost in the entanglements of side issues or the jargon of politik-speak, or even worse, compromised to placate the political and media establishment. The billboard chosen by Youth Defence was an example of truth spoken clearly. The pro-life movement must never lose sight of what abortion is. If the day should ever come when we pretend that abortion is too complex an issue to call it murder, then not only have we lost the battle, we have lost sight of what we are fighting for. We have lost sight of that child, helpless and defenceless, waiting to die. The Project Truth Billboard, provoked much debate, opening eyes that needed a powerful message to distract that inward looking, self-absorbance that has become our sorry characteristic. That little baby girl was beautiful as all children are not from the moment they are born, but from the moment of conception because their beauty is in what they are and will be, their expectations and promises. The Project Truth Billboards drove home that abortion is murder, that a life taken at whatever stage is the wanton and deliberate destruction of another human being.
One worry we had was that we hadn't got enough, that even with 110 boards, we were missing some towns, some villages, some unposted suburbia. But, thank God, Project Truth generated its own publicity. Every national, and many local, newspapers carried a photo of our board ensuring that its audience was tenfold. Unusual allies are often the best.
In designing our Ads for Life we wanted something that was more reflective than direct - a message complementing rather than restating our billboards. Our copywriter, Shane, was sceptical of RTE being able to find a reason to prevent the ad being broadcast, he said it was factual, it wasn't exploitative, in his view it could be classified as a public service announcement. While we didn't have the same confidence in RTE's impartiality what Shane said did make sense. Sense, as we were to find out, didn't come into it.
All radio ads are required to be submitted for approval by RTE's standards committee before broadcast. Usually it takes a matter of days for a decision to be made, but in our case we hadn't received a response after a week. Finally after two weeks of phone calls and faxes we were told that the ad could not be played as it contravened Section 20 of the Broadcasting Act, as it had a "religious or political direction." We spoke to our solicitor immediately and decided to contact as many local radio stations as was affordable to get nationwide coverage without using the national station. Again we submitted the ads for approval and we received positive answers promptly from 96FM in Cork, Galway Bay FM, LM FM, Tipp FM, and 98FM in Limerick and many other stations had indicated that they would be happy to broadcast what they saw as an informative ad.
It wouldn't be presumptive to consider that the independent local radio stations are a vehicle to express opinions which can be both local and independent. The Broadcasting Act of 1990 which granted licence to these stations was meant to ensure that broadcasting would not remain the exclusive and powerful tool of a semi state body. Much was said of community effort, of community radio governed by those who choose to listen and support local enterprise.
At this point in time these platitudes are as empty as all the political promises made and inevitably broken. Cork, Galway, Limerick and Tipperary all returned resounding majorities against abortion in the referenda of 1983 and 1992, yet the views of those communities are censorable by the IRTC in Dublin. Afraid of the impact of Youth Defence's Ads for Life, a directive was hurriedly sent by Michael O Keefe of the IRTC to all indeng them to refuse the ads, an action which was, to quote but one radio station "regretted". At YD's press conference, a spokesperson said that in a sinister move RTE and the Government censors sought "to stifle the voice of the voiceless" and added" surely it is the death knell of democracy when a government appointed commission can censor those opposed to government policy." This was a brazen act of political censorship, and Youth Defence is seeking a judicial review to overturn the decisions not to broadcast the ads.
But, as every measure brings some reward, it was an action which may have been regretted by the IRTC and RTE as it caused an uproar, not just amongst prolifers but also amongst those who had for so long proclaimed themselves as the champions of free speech that it would take a public display of hypocrisy to support the censorship. And, lest we sound as cynical as our detractors, there were journalists who were condemnatory of the banning of the ad because they saw that it was an attack on freedom of speech, and the right to promulgate factual information. John Drennan noted in the Sunday Independent (18/8/96) that according to the Press office in Leinster House and the Catholic Press Office, Youth Defence was neither a political or religious grouping, adding that "Youth Defence reveals our hypocrisies and what we do to our unborn". In the same newspaper a question of the week asked of passers by, showed a large majority in favour of our billboard. The Sunday World reluctantly stated that "Youth Defence have the right to have it (the radio ads) heard - if such a thing as freedom of speech exists here anymore."
Brenda Power of the Sunday Tribune must have written her article with gritted teeth, calling us "fanatics... set on an absolutist course." She then went on to describe Mandy Allwoods multiple pregnancy as a "litter of foetuses", leaving the reader in no doubt as to her attitude to unborn children. Most of the provincial papers unhindered by a body equivalent to the IRTC, gave support to Youth Defence's decision to seek judicial review; to quote the Kerryman "The recent rejection of the Youth Defence advertisements by the Irish broadcasting authorities cannot be allowed to pass unchallenged. "Another positive aspect of the whole project and the ban in particular was that many ordinary people saw, possibly for the first time, that our government is willing and able to suppress those who effectively oppose them
Youth Defence is a totally voluntary organisation, with no paid staff, and it was due to the selfless dedication of its volunteers that we managed to bring this most important and badly needed campaign to the Irish people. As with all the best laid plans many things went wrong in the frantic two weeks preceding the launch date of August 12th, but when you have a mixture of young people willing to find solutions things often worked out for the better.
In the beginning when Project Truth was just an idea we wondered how visually impactive our billboards would be. On Sunday, 11th of August, the day before the launch, I was driving through Thomas Street in Dublin when I found out. It held the eye. It was striking. Not just because the baby was so beautiful or even that the message was so powerful but because it was so unusual that you had to look at it. The next morning the Irish Times photographer agreed. "Striking," he said, "You couldn't miss it." And nobody did. Not only because 110 billboards have scope for hundreds of thousands of viewers but because everybody who watched the RTE evening news or who reads a daily paper saw the billboard and read its message.
It might never have happened. Or at least it might have been literally only half as effective. With only four weeks to go to launch, we discovered that half of our consignment of billboards had gone missing mysteriously in the post. Consternation ensued. An Post were of no help whatsoever, indulging in that infuriating, bureaucratically-correct but otherwise useless, national pastime - filling out forms. When we phoned the printers in Tennesse, we were told that they had receipt of postage and that the mailbags had been numbered 1 to 12, but we had only received six. We placed an express order and asked for these replacements to be couriered but we had no guarantee that they would arrive in time. With only two working days to spare, 65 Project Truth billboards finally arrived. Not a comfortable margin.
But it was worth the frantic phone calls and the worry. Project Truth's billboards caused debate and argument, raised doubts and hopes, provoked thought and startled complacency - it made abortion an issue again. A work colleague was having a drink in the bar of his golf club with a group of other members, who began to discuss the billboards and their message. The following day he told me, that to his surprise most of those present thought the campaign was very effective. One of his friends commented that the new direction was a positive thing. In a visual age which is so influenced by advertising, Project Truth is a neccessity.
The beauty of our Ad for Life was its simplicity. Radio is not a medium which lends itself to the obscure but as the purpose of this advertisement was to encourage reflection we wanted it to be thoughtful. This is its final text.
(Sound of a heartbeat in the background)
Her heart has been beating since she was 18 days old.
At eight weeks she is perfectly formed.
She sucks her thumb.
And she already has 20 milk-teeth-buds.
In another two weeks she would have had fingernails.
She might have grown up to be a doctor, a scientist, a mother.
But now nobody will ever know.
Have you any conception what abortion is all about?
The ad has already been recorded and following the hearing of a Judicial Review in January of next year, this message for life will be heard on national and local radio stations.
As Des Rushe in the Irish Independent so correctly summed, Project Truth actually received "... infinitely more exposure than its £36,000 budget could buy." Because of the decision by RTE and the IRTC to censor our advertisements, Project Truth became more than just a campaign, it became a matter of national debate. It raised the issues of political censorship, of the ethics of political appointments and other issues that the media could not ignore.
The media blitz started on Monday, August 12th. RTE gave extensive coverage of our press conference and showed our billboard on the Six-One and Nine o Clock News programmes. It was also an item on both Today at Five and that days six thirty radio news. The Irish Times also gave extensive coverage, again showing the billboard in its entirety, and reporting our decision to take legal action against RTE and the IRTC. The Editorial was not so impartial, stating somewhat bizzarely, that the debate over the abortion issue was not helped "by the intolerance shown by Youth Defence in its protest yesterday against the refusal of the broadcasting authorities to allow its emotive advertisement on the nation's airwaves." Strange, to be deemed intolerant for being censored.
The Irish Independent of the same day again carried a photograph of the Project Truth board, but its tone, true to form, was regretful of the fact that the Advertising Standards Authority were "powerless to act on complaints about Youth Defence's latest anti-abortion poster"
The Examiner on August 16th printed the full text of our Ad for Life, and quoted Youth Defence on the subject: " If this is political then so is every medical and biology textbook on the subject". The Evening News, the Evening Herald, the Irish Family, the Irish Catholic,104 FM, 98 FM, Mid West Radio, Shannonside and a host of other media organs discussed Project Truth for the length of the campaign. Des Rushe was absolutely right.
Legal view written in 1996 by Robert Colbert
The Independent Radio and Television Commission’s ban of Youth Defence’s radio advertisement is an abuse of fundamental constitutional rights and a blatant example of the stifling of debate for political purposes.
In August, as part of our highly successful Project Truth campaign, Youth Defence recorded a 30 second radio advertisement (See page 4) to run on independent radio stations nationwide. Nearly half the stations had given written agreement to run the ads, and cheques and copies of the ad had been forwarded to them, when the ad was banned. The Independent Radio and Television Commission (I.R.T.C.), the Government-appointed regulatory body for “independent” broadcasting, sent a letter to all the stations informing them that it was illegal for them to play the advertisement. The I.R.T.C. claimed that the advertisement was “directed towards a religious or political end” and as such was forbidden from being broadcast by Section 10(3) of the Radio and Television Act 1988 which established the system of “independent” broadcasting.
Youth Defence has initiated legal action to challenge the I.R.T.C.’s decision as to the nature of the ad. We will also, if necessary, challenge Section 10(3) itself as being in breach of constitutional rights in order to have it struck down as unconstitutional. Legal action such as this is never taken lightly, but it was felt that to accept the I.R.T.C.’s decision would be to allow such an affront to democratic rights as cannot be tolerated. Firstly, judicial review is being sought of the decision that the ad is “directed towards a political end”. It is hoped that the result of this will be that the I.R.T.C.’s decision will be held to be ultra vires - this means that the decision was made in breach of the I.R.T.C.’s powers, i.e. the I.R.T.C. has not followed proper procedures in reaching the decision, or has made such an unwarranted decision that it could not have been reached by a reasonable person acting in good faith.
There are many questionable aspects regarding the I.R.T.C.’s decision. They came to their decision in the space of one working day, which suggests that there was a lack of deliberation concerning the case. They gave Youth Defence no notice of the fact they were examining the ad with regard to Section 10(3), neither did they notify us of their decision. Further, they made no effort to contact Youth Defence when coming to their decision, despite the fact that in a case where the question is whether the ad was “directed” towards a political end, our intentions in running the advertisement should be potent evidence in deciding whether the ad was so “directed”.
An interesting precedent to look at is the case of Irish Family Planning Association v Ryan. One of the I.F.P.A.’s publications was banned under Section 6 of the Censorship of Publications Act 1946 and the I.F.P.A. challenged the decision of the Censorship of Publications Board on the grounds that it was contrary to Article 40.6.1.i of the Constitution which guarantees the right of freedom of expression. The High Court and Supreme Court, taking Article 40.6.1.i into account, overturned the decision of the Board on a narrow procedural ground. They said that where there was a publication which was not clearly contrary to the Act and in regard to which there could be differing points of view, then there was an onus on the Board to communicate with the I.F.P.A. to allow it to put its case in defence of the publication. If this reasoning was followed in the present case it would seem that the I.R.T.C. were ultra vires in failing to respect the strong burden imposed by the freedom of expression guarantees which would seem to necessitate giving Youth Defence an opportunity to make representations as to the nature of the ad where it is not clearly apparent that it is political.
Even if correct procedures were followed by the I.R.T.C., could it be said that the decision reached was a reasonable one? Since the restrictions in Section 10(3) of the 1988 Act restrict the constitutional rights to communicate and to freedom of expression, they must be construed narrowly. Is it immediately apparent that the advertisement above is directed towards a political end? The aim of Project Truth was to raise awareness of the humanity of preborn children and to encourage people to respect their lives. There may be a knock-on political effect but this can only be speculated. Do advertisements urging people not to drink and drive contribute to decisions to reduce legal alcohol limits? Should such advertisements then be banned on the grounds they are directed towards a political end? Another reason why the ad should not be banned as political was mentioned by Barrister Dermot McNulty, in a statement condemning the I.R.T.C.’s decision. Article 40.3.3 declares that the State shall guarantee “as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate” the equal right to life of the unborn. A strong case can be made that, as the advertisement is designed to encourage the protection of the right to life of the unborn, it is implicitly permitted by Article 40.3.3 and cannot be banned on the grounds it is political.
If the courts fail to overturn the I.R.T.C.’s decision that the ad is political, we intend to challenge the constitutionality of Section 10(3) itself (and also the similarly worded Section 20(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1960 which bans R.T.E. from accepting political advertisements). Article 40.6.1.i of the Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to express freely their convictions and opinions, subject to public order and morality and the authority of the State. The right of free expression is also subject to other constitutional rights such as the right to a good name contained Article 40.3.2. It has been questioned whether or not Article 40.6.1.i protects statements of fact as well as statements of opinion. Mr Justice Costello in Attorney General v Paperlink said that the communication of factual information was protected, not by Article 40.6.1.i, but by Article 40.3.1, which he said contained a right to communicate. This distinction is somewhat artificial, however, as statements of fact and opinion are normally found together, and later courts have not averted to it. The Project Truth radio ad would probably be classified as factual in nature, but it appears that this would not reduce the constitutional protection which it is afforded, as Mr Justice Costello appeared to view both the right to communicate and the right of freedom of speech as being subject to the same restrictions.
The test increasingly used to determine whether limitations on constitutional rights are permissible is that of proportionality. This is a two part test. Firstly, there must be a legitimate interest or objective served by the restriction of the right. Secondly, the restriction of the right must be proportionate to the objective. The restriction must not operate rationally and not arbitrarily and must not be any wider than is needed for the accomplishment of the objective. If the restrictions imposed on freedom of speech by Section 10(3) of the 1988 Act and Section 20(4) of the 1960 Act are to be valid they must conform to the requirements of proportionality. The view of legal experts is that they do not. As Hogan and Whyte point out in Kelly, The Irish Constitution (3rd Ed.) it is not easy to point to any State interest or objective which could legitimate the ban.
In “Federal Republic of Germany, Ireland and the U.K.: Three European Approaches to Political Campaign Regulation” (1992) 21 Capital University Law Review, Hogan dismisses the idea that political advertising should be restricted on the grounds that it allows the rich to fund parties favourable to their interests, which parties can then use this money to fund political advertising, and supposedly obtain more votes. He makes the point that a similar justification could be made for restrictions on political advertising in the print media. Such a ban would be viewed as unacceptable. If this is the case, why would the justification be sufficient to maintain a ban on political advertising in the broadcasting media. He says “Once the courts (rightly, in my view) accept commercial speech as legitimate and worthy of protection, it becomes very difficult for the State to justify any restriction - no matter how well motivated - on commercial political speech.”
“Liberal” Ireland, in a typical hypocritical fashion, has attacked us for trying to distribute real abortion information. An Irish Times editorial went so far as to describe citizens standing up for their fundamental constitutional right to free speech as “totalitarian”. These “liberals” want a one way liberalism - complete freedom for them to implement their policies, coupled with the freedom to repress those who oppose them. The ban on political advertising and especially the way it has been used against Youth Defence is only one example of the increasing stranglehold of the "liberal" dictatorship. Everyone is well aware of the bias in RTE and the national print media in favour of abortion. The system is well set up for the elites who control it and the agenda for debate is set by one side only. As Dr. Colm Kenny, Barrister and Lecturer in Communications in DCU has pointed out, the biggest question the media should be asking themselves with regard to the case is why Youth Defence felt it had to resort to paid advertising to get it's message across.
The case of New York Times v Sullivan, is often cited by legal commentators as being one of the most important cases in the world for upholding the right of freedom of speech. An attempt was made to use the libel laws to prevent news organisations from covering the racial struggle in the American South. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the 1st Amendment to the American Constitution necessitated uninhibited speech about public life. Open discussion was necessary to prevent the abuse of Government power. What many people forget is that the case concerned not a piece of journalism, but a newspaper advertisement. Let us hope that the Irish courts are brave enough to similarly uphold constitutional rights where advertising in this country is concerned, and also that the “liberals” gain the decency to accept that everyone, whether pro-abortion or not, is entitled to those rights.
This article was written in October 1998 after a judicial review upheld the ban
The thoughtful observer cannot have failed to notice the increasingly pro-active role of the judiciary in Irish public affairs. Large portions of the daily news are now broadcast from the front of the Four Courts, giving visual representation to an important fact of the most profound concern i.e. that the Judges are not just making news, they are making law. This is more than un-Constitutional, it is positively anti-Constitutional insofar as it cuts to the core of the bedrock of Constitutionalism as such, namely the separation of powers, judiciary, legislature and executive. Of course to a certain extent this tendency toward pro-active interpretation is an inevitable consequence of the Common Law system and is not necessarily a bad thing insofar as it permits the application of natural law principles. In saner times it did, and still has the potential to, perform for the benefit of society in general. However in recent years the trend has been almost exclusively deleterious and judges have increasingly acted from personal opinion rather than anything which might resemble the natural law principles. From it we have the X and C judgements, the rulings in the Hanafin Case, the Ward Case and many others. It is in this context that we must see the recent result of the Youth Defence appeal against the I.R.T.C. ban on the radio advertisements which were originally planned as part of "Project Truth".
It was natural to expect trouble from the I.R.T.C. given that it was chaired by the notorious “Liberal” bigot Niall Stokes and so there was. As such we had to be more than ordinarily careful in framing the advertisements in a way that gave not the slightest excuse to ban them so that in the first instance, it would be very difficult and, in the second if they did so they would be clearly cast in the role of illegal censors. When the ban came it was among the things which might be expected but we were on solid legal ground since the advertisements themselves were solely educational, and informative in a non-debatable way. Some simple facts about the development of the unborn child were aimed at causing pause for thought on the question of abortion rather than directed towards a political end.
The Court declared otherwise, though it did so in a manner which no reasonable person could have anticipated. Justice Sheridan delivered a sixty eight page judgement rejecting the Youth Defence case on a most curious ground which was certainly at the very least a novel interpretation of the Broadcasting Act. Essentially what it amounted to was this yes, the advertisements themselves were wholly non-political and non-religious and did not fall within the ambit of the Act in and of themselves. Youth Defence however were the problem, since the organisation had political opinions on what should be done about the current legal position in regard to abortion. It followed that nothing we could or would have to say on any conceivable matter could be viewed outside the context of this political opinion. In short if we wanted a referendum then everything we did and said might be defined as being directed toward that end. Taken to its logical conclusion this means that a statement by Youth Defence that grass is green is directed towards achieving a Pro-Life Referendum. It is an interesting way of looking at it; it is also absurd and wrong.
Of course we have never made any secret of our belief that a vital step in achieving a truly Pro-Life society is the restoration of Constitutional protection for the unborn child, undoubtedly a political position primarily. We have, however, never neglected the importance of a Pro-Life mentality and never believed that the law alone could be a solution to this greatest single moral question of the late Twentieth Century. The right to life of the unborn child is just too important to be left to lawyers and is beyond politics as an issue of fundamental right and wrong. Confusion of facts by pro-abortion lobbyists has had its political effects but has also permeated broader society and doubtless led to many deaths in the abortion mills of England, though quite how many we cannot be certain.
Knowing this obliges the genuine Pro-Life person to do more than lobby politicians but to act directly to counteract the myths which surround abortion and in particular the truth concerning the development of the child in the womb. Hence "Project Truth" designed to dissuade individuals from choosing or supporting the deadly option in dealing with pregnancy in difficult circumstances. Most of our work over the years has been of this nature. The street information sessions have revealed, more than anything else, that lives can be saved on a daily basis by simply telling the truth, courageously and without equivocation. It would probably have been impossible to maintain motivation for this ongoing effort over so many years if we were not constantly reminded that it was working in saving babies.
The Court however was unimpressed. It couldn't obviously see the point of saving babies, caught up as it is in a world of legalisms and, in effect, it imputed to Youth Defence a clandestine agenda. What might be really interesting to know is whether the Courts now intend to ask for the political background of individuals giving evidence in all cases. After all the logic of their decision is that a fact is not a fact independent of the political views of the witness on any and all other matters regardless of their relevance. Perhaps it is only Pro-Lifers who are suspect since they didn't seem to take anything from the connection of the I.F.P.A. of with the clinical psychologist in the ‘X’ case nor were the well known affiliations of several of the parties involved in the C case considered relevant.
It is difficult from just this one example to know whether the Court really intended to do much else other than back up the Niall Stokes ban or if they have really included in the meaning of the Broadcasting Act and thus Irish Law in general the thoroughly Soviet concept of "political unreliable". It would be stating the obvious to say that we believe the judgement was wrong but the decision whether to appeal to the Supreme Court must be taken in the full knowledge of that pro-active tendency which I mentioned earlier, and one has to wonder if there is any point. In any case we have passed another milestone on the road to government by judges.