A television advert for watches which caused a woman to have an epileptic seizure has received the approval of advertising regulators. The advert, for watches from Dolce & Gabbana (D&G), has not been banned.
A woman who suffered from photosensitive epilepsy complained to the Advertising Standards Authority having suffered a seizure after watching a short part of the advert. She said that the advert was irresponsible and inappropriate for broadcast.
D&G said that it had submitted the advert to an industry standard test for triggering photosensitive epilepsy, the Harding FPA test, and that it had passed. The ASA said that it was not inappropriate for the advert to be broadcast.
The advert contained footage of people in a studio or disco environment, which involved quickly-cut images and flashing light sequences. Media regulator Ofcom investigated the advert and found that while sections exceeded the maximum allowed three flashes in a second it was not clear if it had breached other rules and there were no clear breaches of the rules overall.
Under the Harding test the advert passed. While the advert at times exceeded the guidelines for flashing amplitude and frequency, the flashing area did not exceed more than the permitted 25% of the screen.
"We acknowledged that this ad had been tested for extended flashing and had not failed; we understood that no flashing sequence in the ad lasted for longer than about one second," said the ASA's ruling. "In view of the fact that it had passed the Harding test and, through manual analysis, no breach of the guidelines was discernible, we considered that it was not inappropriate for the ad to be broadcast."
The ASA said that the guidelines could not necessarily protect everybody. "We understood that, in some cases, if the subject was particularly vulnerable, photosensitive epilepsy could be triggered by broadcast content that had incontestably conformed to guidelines and that the guidelines and the testing provisions in place could not altogether remove the risk of a seizure through photosensitivity for all viewers," it said.
"Although the Ofcom Guidance Note was drawn up with the aim of reducing risk to viewers, the 'flickering' nature of all television pictures meant that it was impossible to entirely eliminate the risk of television causing seizures in viewers with photosensitive epilepsy."
The organisation behind the Olympic Games due to be staged in London in 2012 recently ran into similar controversy. A promotional film for the games shown on its website portrayed the Games' controversial logo diving into a swimming pool using flashing images.
Epileptics claimed that the film caused seizures. Charity Epilepsy Action said that the film did not meet Ofcom's guidance on flashing images and photosensitive epilepsy.
"We took immediate steps to remove the animation from our web site while checks are being conducted," said the Games organisers in June.