UK Ad Watchdog Gives Up on Election Ads

24 February 2005

'Legal, decent, honest and truthful.' That's the credo of Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, the body responsible for oversight of advertising content. Failure to comply with the credo results in a ban on offending ads.

Except those placed by the nation's political parties - whose electoral ads have consistently demonstrated their inability to be legal ... or decent ... or honest ... let alone truthful.

And with a general election forthcoming (the smart money is on May 2), the ASA has eschewed any further attempt to regulate the indecent, dishonest and untruthful outpourings of the politicos.

Explains ASA head of policy Dr David Webster: "If the political parties and the Electoral Commission agreed to establish self-regulatory ground rules for election advertising, it could not be for the ASA to administer them.

"The ASA should not be put into a position of having to police someone else's code. Self regulation is not a game of cops and robbers. It has to involve self regulation by those involved."

Accordingly, complaints received by the ASA between now and election day will not be actioned. Instead, a summary of objections will be provided to each political party and complainants will be advised to address their concerns to the offending party.

The parties have never agreed to be judged against the ASA's Code of Advertising Practice, one requirement of which is that marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove all claims capable of objective substantiation.

Cynics say this proviso alone would engrave an apt inscription on the headstone of UK electioneering.

ASA director general, Christopher Graham, has written to party leaders outlining the political advertising policy adopted by the body in the run up to the general election.

As political advertising is already prohibited on TV and radio [the main parties being allowed free editorial airtime in propertion to their percentage of votes], the new ASA policy applies to non-broadcast advertising only.

Data sourced from Advertising Standards Authority (UK); additional content by WARC staff