The House of Lords’ report ‘Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust’ is a profoundly important document. The challenge now is how the recommendations are turned into action.

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We write as the Coalition for Reform in Political Advertising; our concern, therefore, is largely with the issue of advertising within the bigger and broader subject of misinformation and disinformation so well explored by the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies in their report of 29th June 2020 ‘Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust.’

The Report’s conclusions on political advertising are sound and very welcome, the recommendations cover all the points we have been campaigning for over several years. Most importantly we’d argue that the content of electoral political advertising should be regulated by the application of a Code of Conduct drawn up between a committee of existing regulators (The ASA, the Electoral Commission, the ICO and Ofcom) and political parties.

This is a major milestone – the first time that a significant parliamentary appointed committee has advocated the regulation of the content of electoral political advertising. It also comes after another development last month when the Advertising Standards Authority updated its official position to state that political advertising should be regulated.

We thank Lord Puttnam and the committee for their leadership in including this as one of the key recommendations of this comprehensive report.

However, our ultimate objective is the actioning of this recommendation. In common with many reports of this type, the ‘what’ is clear but the ‘how’ is not set out. In other words, there is no clear identification of specific next steps, which players are responsible for those, and by when action needs to be taken.

By way of example, the recommendation that (36): ‘The relevant experts in the ASA, the Electoral Commission, Ofcom and the UK Statistics Authority should co-operate through a regulatory committee on political advertising. Political parties should work with these regulators to develop a code of practice for political advertising, along with appropriate sanctions, that restricts fundamentally inaccurate advertising during a parliamentary or mayoral election, or referendum. This regulatory committee should adjudicate breaches of this code.’ Who does what next, therefore? What is their mandate to do that? Why should political parties come to the table?

In addition the Committee’s explorations, both in the general realm of misinformation and the specific territory of advertising reveal some challenges in turning the recommendations into legislation or other actions that will deliver the objective.

For example, the report has many references to the inconsistencies, evasions and obfuscations of the platforms and politicians under scrutiny.

We firmly believe the committee’s recommendation is the right side of history on this issue. The election in December was the perfect case study to demonstrate why change is needed. Independent regulators want regulation to happen, voters want regulation to happen. We now urgently need political leadership on the issue.

 


We are not for profit and are run by unpaid volunteers. Please consider donating to our campaign here. We rely on donations to continue our work.

 

 

 

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