A screenshot of the U.K. government's CyberFirst advertising campaign.

CyberFirst/HM Government

A controversial advertisement encouraging people working in the arts to retrain in cybersecurity has been scrapped by the government after a social media backlash, a day before unemployment rose to its highest level for more than three years.

The ad, part of the government’s long-running CyberFirst campaign, featured a ballet dancer tying her shoes, with the caption: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. (She just doesn’t know it yet).” It comes alongside the tagline “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.”

The ad comes as the government is encouraging people to retrain during the coronavirus pandemic. On Oct. 6, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said that people “in all walks of life” are having to adapt for employment. “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis. That’s why we’ve put a lot of resource into trying to create new opportunities,” he told commercial broadcaster ITV.

The government pulled the ad on Monday after its recirculation on social media triggered widespread outrage, with critics saying it suggested a lack of respect for the arts — one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic.

Read: Broadway won’t reopen in 2020 — here’s the new timeline

“This is part of a campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cybersecurity but this particular piece of content was not appropriate and has been removed from the campaign,” a Downing Street spokesperson told reporters.

The ad initially featured on the website QA, an organization that provides technology training.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden described the ad as “crass” in a tweet on Monday and sought to distance himself from the campaign, saying it didn’t come from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

He stressed that he wanted to save jobs in the arts “which is why we are investing £1.57bn.”

Read: Government throws U.K.’s arts and culture sector a $2 billion lifeline

The ad was taken down just hours before new data from the Office of National Statistics on Tuesday showed the U.K. unemployment rate rose to 4.5% in the three months ending August, pushing up the total to 1.52 million, the highest level for more than three years. 

“The arts, entertainment and recreation sector is expected to be particularly badly hit, with 51% of workers on furlough with so many venues still closed,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

In late June, a report from the Creative Industries Federation predicted that the U.K.’s creative industries could lose $94 billion in revenue in 2020, or £1.4 billion a week, due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Popular British choreographer Matthew Bourne was among those that took to Twitter

to criticize the ad, asking “This has to be a joke? Right?”

Author Caitlin Moran asked in a tweet: “I don’t know if the government know they appear to have recently created a “Hopes & Dreams Crushing Department,” but for a country already depressed and anxious, I would suggest it’s a bit of a “Not now, dudes” moment?”

Dr. Rosena Allin-Khan, mental health minister of the opposition Labour Party, tweeted: “Fatima, you be you. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you aren’t good enough because you don’t conform to their preconceived social norms.”

On Monday, the DCMS released details of 1,300 organizations that will share £257 million in funding from its £1.57 billion arts support package, the Culture Recovery Fund. The allocation is the biggest tranche of funding distributed to date from the fund, and brings the total amount of grant funding awarded so far to more than £360 million. 

Former principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Darcey Bussell said she welcomed the support from DCMS, adding: “We cannot overestimate the value of arts and culture in our lives, and its ability to build community, resilience and bring joy.”

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