01 August 1997

The Committee on Advertising Practice, which sets the rules policed by the Advertising Standards Authority, is mulling a proposal to classify all political ads as 'propaganda out of the bounds of regulation'. As things stand, the ASA's responsibility for political ads is only to monitor matters of taste, decency and individual privacy; the rules of honesty and truthfulness do not apply! The CAP sees this as an unsatisfactory 'half-way house' and is worried that political advertising is tarnishing the reputation of advertising as a whole. But nor does it want to sip the poisoned chalice of deciding whether a political party is telling the truth: 'We are an unelected body', says Caroline Crawford, an ASA director, 'and have no desire to become involved in the democratic process. Can you imagine the situation if, during the course of an election, we are asked to adjudicate on an advertisement on a matter of truthfulness? Say it takes a week for us to judge it and in the meantime the party making the false claim wins the election. Are we then to rule that they lied their way into power?'