Electoral Commission to Mull UK Political Ad Regulation

07 October 2002

As forecast [WAMN: 23-Jul-02], regulation of non-broadcast political advertising is to be put under the microscope by Britain's Electoral Commission, an independent body established by Parliament.

The UK political advertising scene – currently a turbid miasma of outright lies, half-truths and character assassination – may be forced to toe the same line as the nation’s commercial advertisers. Namely, to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”, as the mantra of Britain's Advertising Standards Authority has it.

The political ad arena is currently unregulated, the ASA in frustration having renounced any attempt to referee the roughhouse in October 1999 - two years after M&S Saatchi’s notorious ‘demon eyes’ campaign for the Conservative Party. Election advertising by the Labour Party has been no more edifying.

The decision to exclude political ads from the ASA’s remit was triggered by concern that the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation could be compromised by rulings for or against political parties.

The Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life concluded in 1998 that the best way of dealing with political advertising was to establish a new code and it urged political parties to work with the advertising industry to agree a code that would lead to self-regulation.

But three years on, the Electoral Commission’s report, Election 2001: The Official Results, noted that no progress had been made towards agreement and undertook to consider the case for a code for political advertising.

Says commission chairman Sam Younger: “Political advertising always has the potential for being controversial, so there is a real need to review the case for a code on political advertising.”

Following Friday’s announcement of the review, it is anticipated that a period of public consultation will begin at the end of this year before recommendations are made next Spring.

Data sourced from: The Electoral Commission; additional content by WARC staff