UK's Top Court to Mull Lifting of Political TV Ads Ban

06 December 2006

LONDON: Political TV and radio ads - banned on UK commercial TV and radio since their inception in 1954 - might soon besmirch the airwaves after the London High Court on Monday granted advocacy campaigners the right to take their case to the House of Lords, the nation's highest court.

As the law currently stands it is not only political parties whose commercials are banned. Potentially contoversial advocacy groups, such as the current petitioners Animal Defenders International, are also prohibited.

ADI launched its case after its TV commercial My Mate's a Primate was rejected on the basis of the 2003 Communications Act, which defines a political organisation as a body whose main aim is "to influence public opinion on a matter of controversy".

Although the High Court denied the petition (against the Department of Culture Media and Sport) to have the ban lifted, ADI won a rare legal concession - to take its case direct to the Lords.

Usually an appellant must squelch through the quagmire of the English legal appeals procedure- a process that can take years - before a case can be heard by the Lords.

ADI's lawyers argued that the ban breaches Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression. Says ADI campaigns director Tom Phillips: "The fact that we are avoiding the court of appeal is testament to the strength of the case."

However, the DCMS - a cockeyed political Frankenstein cobbled together in 1997 by the John Major administration - defended the status quo.

"This ban, which has been in place since the start of commercial broadcasting under the 1954 Television Act, continues to have wide support. It has served the country well by preventing the political process from being skewed by those who have the most money to spend."

Although there may be a case for exempting organisations such as ADI from the ban, some civil libertarians fear its total repeal would open a Pandora's box of broadcast party politicking in which weight of spend - rather than weight of argument - would rule.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff