The European Court of Human Rights managed to win over some unlikely fans last week when it rejected efforts to overturn the UK’s ban on US-style political broadcast advertising. Animal Defenders International had brought the case following the refusal by the BACC – the forerunner of Clearcast – to approve an ad that showed a chimpanzee in a cage and asked for donations to end the commercial use of primates on TV. The BACC had overruled the ad as ADI is a political pressure group, as opposed to a charity, and political advertising is banned under the 2003 Communications Act.
ADI claimed that the ban was a restriction on free speech, but the ECHR ruled that the UK’s legislation on advertising complies with the provisions on freedom of expression. Ian Twinn, the director of public affairs at ISBA, said: "Waving goodbye to this piece of legislation would mean saying hello to the US-style of TV political advertising, where money talks loudest and viewers are faced with intolerable barracking in their living rooms from advocacy groups associated with political parties." Is he right? And is the ban still appropriate?
Magnus Djaba, chief executive, Saatchi & Saatchi London
"Freedom of expression works both ways: it can be freedom to, but, equally, freedom from. I know what we in advertising tend to say about the changing media landscape. However, the fact remains that there are still plenty of people who consume media through different devices, but do it while sitting in front of the TV. Political ads should seek deep engagement for their cause and there are plenty of other channels available that can deliver that engagement. But those who don’t want to actively engage should be protected from passively receiving extreme messages on political subjects. Personally, I would never want to see an ad from the BNP on my TV."
Debbie Klein, chief executive, Engine UK
"At the moment, I think the UK has a good balance where campaign groups and individuals can have their voices heard among the noise, and good organisations are not held back by a lack of money. If political ads are allowed, then money begins to talk. And once money gets into the system, there will be all kinds of lobbyists trying to help the fundraising or supporting the campaigns of favoured candidates. But we know from experience in the wider advertising industry that brands that have the most money to spend don’t always have the best product. That’s why creativity is such a valued commodity."
Jonathan Trimble, chief executive, 18 Feet & Rising
"European Union law and the media are conflating the issue of an animal-rights group being stopped from running an ad in 2005 with a general debate about US-style political advertising in today’s world. The theme of monkeys and the circus may be common to both but, otherwise, it’s helpful to treat ‘political’ ads and party political ads separately. On the latter, we have plenty of airtime committed to politicians’ unfiltered commentary. So no, I don’t favour advertising airtime adding to the mess. On the subject of ADI, I am in favour of freedom of speech and holding the debate at the level of Clearcast rather than for eight years in EU litigation."
Sarah Baumann, managing director, Atelier London
"I can’t imagine anyone welcoming US-style political ads on UK TV. The US system saw nearly $1 billion spent on presidential campaign advertising during the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, most of which were attack ads. It’s comforting to know that, thanks to the upholding of this ban, this approach won’t be infiltrating the political system here any time soon. There is still plenty of creative potential in non-broadcast political advertising. In fact, political advertising is something many agencies will embrace more and more as the opportunities for shops to contribute to government advertising become reduced."