Editorial: 'Political' clients should be able to use television

How can it be right that a company such as BP is allowed to use TV to convince politicians and other opinion-formers that it cares about the environment, while a charity is denied space on the same medium to question such claims? The answer is self-evident and goes to show how unfair the rules about political advertising on TV are. So good luck to Animal Defenders International, the charity which last week went to the High Court to challenge them.

ADI is seeking to overturn legislation preventing it from running a TV ad opposing the use of monkeys and apes in circuses on the grounds that it is "political advertising" and, therefore, unlawful. The fact is the banning of the spot from TV merely makes a monkey of a law, which increasingly looks like an impediment to free speech. Now the time has come to rewrite the rules so campaigning organisations with no political affiliations can communicate via TV.

Just how deeply the situation has descended into farce was evident last year when Ofcom banned a Make Poverty History ad featuring an array of celebrities clicking their fingers to reinforce the message that a child dies of preventable poverty every three seconds. No matter that the film was cleared by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre or that it attracted no complaints while it was on air.

The blame lies not with Ofcom. The law is the law and the watchdog is there to enforce it, despite whatever personal sympathies it might have for a campaign's aims. The problem is an official edict which is no longer relevant for a time when "political" is open to a multitude of interpretations.

The Government's contention that campaign groups can use a wide variety of other non-broadcast media is not an adequate response. The proliferation of TV channels not only gives pressure groups entry to the media at low cost but allows them to target those they need to influence. Of course, there are fears any relaxation of the rules will throw TV open to any group with an axe to grind, a few pounds to spend and with a scant regard either for taste or the truth. This is understandable - the inclination of such organisations is to shout loud with little regard to the consequences. But all TV advertising ought to be legal, decent, honest and truthful. If BP abides by this, why not Greenpeace?