Dear Dermot Scott….

17 04 2009

Dermot Scott
Head of Office
UK Office of the European Parliament,
2 Queen Anne’s Gate,
London
SW1H 9AA
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Tel: 020 7227 4300 Fax: 020 7227 4302
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dermot.scott@europarl.europa.eu
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Dear Mr Scott,

I am the constituent of Tom Wise’s, whom you recently referred to have “misunderstood the purpose” of the EU Parliament poster promoting the upcoming EU elections. I have appended your email response to Mr Wise, who mailed you on my behalf, below.
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I should make it very clear before I begin, that I am a trained media analyst, specialising in semiotics. I have studied, and taught, the subject extensively, and find your assertion that any audience member can misread any media image, naive in the extreme. Both audience and reception are fluid, and there is no single hegemonic reading of any media image, regardless of the intent of the producer. Your answer that I, a mere constituent, misunderstood the true nature of the product, speaks loudly to me of your viewpoint on those of us so low down in the pecking order, that all we posses is a vote.
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I also found your comments about your personal circumstances utterly patronising. I could regale you with mine, would that make for some sort of debate on ethics? Likewise, who is ‘we’?

It is of note, that you choose not to actually address any of the issues raised in my letter, sent to you by Mr Wise, merely stated that you personally, or rather the anonymous ‘we’, were happy with the campaign. I was not aware you were in charge of the EU in its entirety, and your office made decisions on how to act on complaints and requests for information from MEPs/their constituents, as you saw fit from a basis of your personal history. I was clearly operating from a misunderstanding of my own: that it was the role of those in public office, and their support staff, to facilitate communications between constituents and the mega-systems of the Parliament. If I have further misunderstood this, and it is your role to respond to complaints and deem them not worthy of attention, and dismiss the concerns without acting upon them, please forward the relevant section of your job description and I will send my apologies.
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As I’m working on the assumption that this is not in your role, let us move on to the actual complaint I lodged via my MEPs, and which I, and others, expect your office to act upon.
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First of all, let me make it clear, that how I, or you, or anyone interprets this poster, is not the issue. It’s not about what we make of it: it is about what is there. And what is there, is a baby feeding bottle and a teat. It also does not matter one jot what is in the bottle. It could contain ambrosia from the Gods, or even Hera’s own milk, as it sprayed across the Universe. That’s not the issue. The bottle, is the issue. Something that appears to be a bit of a mystery to you, your office, and many of the MEPs contacted this past week from constituents, breastfeeding agencies, mothers, fathers, grans and loving grandfathers: all of whom have ‘misunderstood’ this nice poster. My understanding is that the Labour Party in Europe has called for the poster to be scrapped? Why, how can so many of us be so wrong? What possible reason could we have, for being so incensed that this image has been used?
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Well, let’s start with Code shall we? http://www.ibfan.org/site2005/Pages/article.php?art_id=52&iui=1
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In 1981, the World Health Assembly adopted The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. The Code, as it is referred to, states some interesting things in its resolutions: it defines bottles and teats, specifically, as being covered by the Code:
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“The International Code applies to any product which is marketed or otherwise represented as a suitable to replace breastmilk and to feeding bottles and teats. Clearly infant formula, which is marketed for use from birth, is such a product. Other products may also be breastmilk substitutes.
* Infant formula
* Follow-on formula
* Bottles and teats”
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Bottles and teats Mr Scott. Not just the content of the bottle – the actual image of a baby bottle and a teat. Just like the one in the poster we are all complaining about. The one you think is fine, as you can read breastmilk into it, if you wish to. But it doesn’t matter what’s in the bottle, because it’s the bottle that kills babies in resource poor countries. It’s the bottle and teat – specifically shown in this poster – that is difficult to clean, and which causes illness and death, to infants, daily. WHO and Unicef estimate that 4000 babies die every day from inappropriate BOTTLE feeding, Mr Scott. That’s not inappropriate FORMULA feeding Mr Scott, it’s inappropriate BOTTLE feeding. Baby bottle. Have I got that message over? In the time it’s taken me to write so far in this letter, approx 160 babies have died from bottle feeding.
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Let’s look at what Code says world governments should do in terms of stopping bottle and teat images being seen by pregnant women and women with young children shall we?

5.1 There should be no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products within the scope of this Code.
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Now that’s pretty clear isn’t it? None whatsoever. Now, I know the Code only covers health care systems, health care workers, makers and distributors of products coming under Code. I know the office that made this advert isn’t any of those. But I also know, there is a moral and ethical stance here. And that’s given the Code, it is entirely unethical, and inappropriate, for a baby bottle to be used in a campaign that targets the general public. And specifically targets parents. “How should we help balance family and career?”
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It is, quite simply, obscene, for this poster to use this image, in light of Code, and the WHA resolutions. And not one person from the EU had answered this complaint, in any way shape or form.
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I would like an answer to it please. How can the EU justify using a baby bottle in a fragrant disregard of Code? If you are not the person to answer this question on behalf of the EU, Mr Scott, please either forward it to the person who is, or inform me of their contact details. It’s a simple request, and one that falls within the scope of your office, would that be correct, especially as the original request was made through my MEP?
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Now, let’s leave Code, and move to the EU itself, shall we? Shall we try the following?
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EU Project on Promotion of Breastfeeding in Europe. Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding in Europe: a blueprint for action. European Commision, Directorate Publich Health and Risk Assessment, Luxembourg 2004.
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http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_projects/2002/promotion/fp_promotion_2002_frep_18_en.pdf
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This is an EU document, outlining EU practice. It upholds Code as the mainstay of breastfeeding protection (that’s where you’re forbidden from showing images of baby bottles and teats, btw, in case you have missed that) and further states that this is, or itself a Human Rights Issue:
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“Protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding fall squarely into the domain of human rights.The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),3 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989 and ratified so far by all countries except the United States of America and Somalia, states in its Article 24 that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health … States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures … To ensure that all segments of society,in particular parents and children,are informed,have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding,hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents”
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And then goes on to state:
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“Finally, a programme for the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding is not just a list of separate interventions. Interventions are usually multifaceted, interrelated and integrated in order to maximise their combined and cumulative effect. Moreover, the effect will depend on continuity, because a change in the behaviour of mothers, families and health workers, and of the infant feeding culture in a given society, requires that interventions and programmes be sustained for a sufficient length of time.”
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Hmm… it’s suggesting you all have to carry the weight, you know. Every department in every aspect of EU work, must, as an imperative, uphold and protect breastfeeding and Code… which forbids the uses of bottles and teats in marketing and promotional images.
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Further, in recommendation 2.1.5, the EU states the EU has to:
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2.1.5.To ensure that there is no advertising or other form of promotion to the general public of products under the scope of the International Code
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AND:
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2.2.2.To present exclusive breastfeeding for six months and continued breastfeeding up to two years and beyond as the normal way to feed and bring up infants and young children in all written and visual materials relating to or making reference to IYCF and to the role of mothers .
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Oh dear. It all fell down a bit there. An EU poster specifically identified as being designed to speak to parents – by the EU -and it shows a bottle feeding image, and not one of breastfeeding? In other words, they have produced written and visual materials that breeches 2.2.2.
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And then we got to: 2.2.4.
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To monitor, inform and use all organs of the media to promote and support breastfeeding and to ensure that it is at all times portrayed as normal and desirable.
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Now, talk about shooting yourself in the foot. The health and infant feeding agencies of the EU, are charged with monitoring all media output from commercial companies etc, in case they break Code and portray bottles and teats… and the EU produces a massive billboard poster showing… a bottle and teat. Designed for parents… which includes mothers, does it not?
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So, my second question to you Mr Scott. Again, if you are not the person to answer this, please either forward it to the right person, or send me their contact details. How can the EU reconcile the use of the baby bottle and teat image in the current EU promotional campaign, in light of the recommendations of the 2004 blueprint for breastfeeding promotion and protection?
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It’s a very simple and clear question. One I hope to receive an answer too. I am, presuming, of course, that you don’t decide in your capacity of Head of Office to either just ignore this email, or decide there is nothing to answer for, as you, personally, don’t object to the poster.
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Looking forward to a prompt reply
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Morgan Gallagher, BA (hons) Film & English, Master Certificate in Media Education, BFI
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Constituent of Tom Wise, MEP, South East.

Dear Tom
Thank you for your mail and the attachment. We regret that your constituent has misunderstood the purpose of the advertisement, which is to emphasise the balance between work and home for both men and women. The work-life balance is important for both sexes, not just for women. A further point is that, nowadays, much bottle-fed milk is in fact breast-milk. As a grandfather myself, I have often bottle-fed my grandson with breast-milk expressed by his mother. We are therefore entirely satisfied that the image appropriately encapsulates choices to be made by parents, both women and men, in taking care of their children and for family and working life. Will you pass on the contents of this letter, or would you prefer that I should reply directly? I see that the mail was addressed to all East region MEPs, so I hope you will not mind if I send a similar mail to them.

All good wishes
Dermot Scott
Head of Office

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6 responses

17 04 2009
Sundancer

Oh Morgan – I want to stand here and do one of those slow applauses they do in the movies!I’m not sure there’s any way this letter can be replied to without some serious groveling, or at least looking utterly stupid.

17 04 2009
Morgan

Well, I’m not holding my breath!

18 04 2009
SuSuseriffic

You are amazing! and that letter was Sooooo pandering that they sent back! I am so tired of seeing formula adds here in the US! I wish the US paid attention to the code!

18 04 2009
Kate

“fragrant disregard”? Because his attitude stinks, I guess. 🙂 I hope he swallows a suitable amount of humble pie. I’ve not had a peep from any of my MEPs.

18 04 2009
Morgan

I spotted it after it went out, and then couldn’t edit this one, as I can’t edit the original..But I’ll never miss flagrant/fragrant again, I hope!!!

23 04 2009
Evelyn

that must have been a very satisfying letter to write!

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