Sky has been found in breach of political advertising rules relating to spots promoting Saudi Arabia.

Regulator Ofcom found that the adverts, promoting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, breached The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising.

In March 2018, the British pay-TV giant ran the advertisement for Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan for the future, 56 times over three days on its Sky One channel. The advert comprised of a montage of images and footage of historic and contemporary Saudi Arabia, which included cityscapes, women driving, cinemas, entertainment, cultural events and members of the Saudi Royal Family.

It coincided with an official visit to the UK by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which took place amid public controversy and debate, when questions were asked in the UK Parliament about the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, particularly focused on the Kingdom’s approach to issues such as freedom of speech and human rights (in particular, women’s rights), as well as its involvement in the Yemeni Civil War and its role more generally in the Middle East.

Ofcom found that it was intended to influence public opinion on a matter of public controversy in the UK and found that it did not consider the advertisement was of “a public service nature”.

The advert was produced by Beaux Media and cleared by agency Clearcast. The latter said it believed the rules did not apply in this case “because it was a restrained advertisement about the trading relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia, where it [described] the longstanding relationship and the increased prosperity through trade to [the] benefit of each party ending with an image of the two nations flags”.

Beaux Media said its “intention during the production of the ad was to promote the relations between the two nations” and added that it “did not consider that the ad might fall under [the advertising rules].”

Sky said, “the compliance clearance of this commercial was undertaken by Clearcast on behalf of Sky”, adding that it therefore had nothing further to add to Clearcast’s representations at this stage.