British Government Mulls Free Political Ads Plan

20 June 2002

The British government is mulling a scheme to require the nation’s newspapers, websites and outdoor sites to provide political parties with free ad space in the run-up to elections.

The mooted plan is part of the ongoing discussion as to how parties are funded. Having forsaken its dependence on trade union donations, the governing Labour Party has been accused of accepting cash from businesses and private individuals in return for favourable treatment – the most recent controversy being the £100,000 ($149,158; €155,979) donated by porn baron and national newspaper owner Richard Desmond [WAMN: 14-May-02].

One proposed solution, which will be reviewed by the Electoral Commission later in 2002, is to introduce state funding for political parties. However, it is thought that the use of public money to pay for advertising would meet a frosty reception from voters, hence the idea of free pre-election ad space.

Such a scheme involving print and outdoor media would mirror the current arrangement with TV and radio broadcasters, which supply an agreed amount of pre-election advertising time, although they are under no legal obligation to do so.

Media owners are not expected to embrace the proposal with enthusiasm although they may see it as a quid pro quo for the Niagara of cash pumped into their coffers by the government, currently the UK’s largest advertiser [WAMN: 25-Feb-02].

This torrent suddenly runs dry during a pre-election period as the government of the day is bound by electoral law not to use public funds in the run-up to elections – even for ads that are not party-overt. In such times of drought, there is unsold ad space aplenty and print media moguls, aware that the main political parties already enjoy free airtime from TV rivals, may feel it expedient to shore-up their accounts in the favours bank.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff