The weekend debate: Is it time to end the ban on political TV advertising?

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

A few weeks ago a campaign advert made by ONE, an organisation founded by Bono (of U2 fame) was banned from TV because it breaches political advertising rules. 

Many people seeing this story for the first time might be quite pleased not to have to deal with the unbearable smugness of Bono on their TV screen again. But outside of any personal dislike of a particular celebrity, politician or political party is this an issue where broadcast regulations are simply out of date?

Remote control pointed at TVWhy should our ad breaks only be used to extol the virtues of the latest toothpaste or bag-less hoover and not the virtues of a political idea or campaign?

With the blurring of the boundaries between TV content and the (as yet) largely unregulated online environment is this just an anachronism from a by-gone age?

If we have to put up with the Go Compare man and ‘We Buy Any Car’ anyway, why not let Bono annoy us for thirty seconds? Or for that matter why not let politicians and political campaigns do the same?

If done correctly, with proper checks and balances, could this enrich our political debate and help campaigns and parties from all sides reach out to those groups who wouldn’t normally seek out political information? Or would it be a dangerous step towards allowing advertising pounds and pence to drive our political debate?

Post your comments below…

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8 Comments

  • David Parkes 5th Nov '11 - 9:36am

    Not a wholly awful suggestion, but what checks and balances would you put in place to ensure the political parties with the most funding didn’t dominate our airwaves at the expense of smaller parties? There would have to be some cap on political campaign spending in place first. A cap that was not beyond the means of any party with a notional degree of public support to meet.

    There would also have to be rules on plurality to ensure that networks were obliged to carry political adverts from all parts of the political spectrum and could not refuse adverts because the network itself has a covert agenda. I believe rules already exist for news broadcasts in the UK, but they would have to be carried over to political advertising.

    A third point is one about the nature of claims made by political campaign adverts. As we saw in the AV referendum, as it was conducted outside of rules that cover campaigning in local, regional or general elections, which are designed to protect candidates, from false accusations the NO campaign was free to make false claims with impunity. Equally my fear would be that without proper regulation and scrutiny of the claims, political adverts could be used to mislead the public in just the same way the NO Campaign fought the AV referendum…

    A final point, its much easier to give an alarmist sound-byte in 30 seconds than it is to give a calm rational explanation. TV advertising plays into the arms of those who would pander to popularism rather than considered thought, so this would be a disaster for the Liberal Democrats.

    In summary, I think you opening a can of worms that would require so much effort and regulation to deliver in a fair and balanced way that you might be better off leaving it on the shelf.

  • Open up yet another channel for politics to be delivered as simplistic drivel? I think not.

  • Andrew Suffield 5th Nov '11 - 11:51am

    It would be worse than just rich parties – TV networks would provide cheap or free advertising to parties in exchange for political favours.

  • Daniel Henry 5th Nov '11 - 12:32pm

    Agree with both comments above.

    The original post made a comparison with the internet. The difference with the internet is that it’s less about money deciding which video gets broadcast and more about people picking good videos and spreading them around by word of mouth.

  • On the contrary, I think there’s an argument for banning all forms of political advertising. Is political advertising on billboards beneficial to the political process, or does it tend to “dumb it down”?

  • Try spending time somewhere where political advertising is allowed – like the US. Its enough to make you want to top yourself. Keep political advertising, and pontificating multimillionaire leading members of middle of the road popular beat combos off our screens please.

  • I actually quite like watching the advertising in the US but that’s mostly because I’m a massive political communications nerd.

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