Call to relax ban on political ads for TV and radio


THE BAN on political advertising on television and radio should be relaxed to allow political parties, trade unions and other groups publicise their policies, according to a report commissioned by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

In light of recent European Court rulings, the report says the current regime in Ireland is open to legal challenge, particularly in relation to interest groups that do not have access to a system of free party political broadcasts.

Given the growing influence of the internet – which is not subject to any form of regulation on political content – the report says it is timely to review the blanket ban on paid political advertising, or risk being caught in a “policy and technological time warp”.

The report, Political Advertising: the Regulatory Position and the Public View, recommends relaxing many existing restrictions, while providing legislative limits on spending to prevent movement towards US-style political advertising.

The report, due to be published by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland later today, was written by Dr Kevin Rafter, a former journalist and now head of the department of film and media at the National Film School at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dún Laoghaire.

The recommendations envisage a revised regime in which there is greater similarity in the regulatory treatment of political advertising on different broadcast platforms, as well as an acceptance that political advertising has a role to play in democratic discourse.

Among the recommendations it makes are that political parties and other groups be given greater freedom to publicise their policies and agendas on television and radio.

Non-political parties should have access to political advertising opportunities, while the party political broadcast system for registered political parties should be expanded.

Broadcast advertising by interest groups, other than political parties, should be permitted outside election and referendum campaigns, subject to defined rules.

Equity of access to public discourse on the airwaves should be a key principle, so those with access to resources do not disproportionately benefit under a new regime

Legislative change should be sponsored to provide greater clarity about regulations governing qualification for party political broadcasts.

A committee of broadcasters, under the remit of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, should be set up with an independent chairman to oversee the party political broadcast system.

Consideration should be given to allow party political broadcasts outside election and referendum campaigns, such as at the start of the parliamentary year or after the budget.

Restrictions on political advertising has proved highly controversial in the past, resulting in adverts by groups such as Trócaire and the National Consumer Agency being banned from the airwaves because they were deemed to be too political.

An opinion poll by Red C, commissioned as part of the report, indicated a significant level of public resistance to a revised political advertising regime. It found that people were more open to change if limitations on spending and/or limitations on the broadcast period accompany liberalisation. A majority of respondents said they had seen party political broadcasts from the 2007 general election and agreed they could influence voting intentions.

However, 25 per cent described these broadcasts as “boring”, while 20 per cent saw them as “informative”.