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Electoral Commission withdraw misleading ad after our ASA complaint

Alex Tait

The Electoral Commission has withdrawn an advert on the topic of political advertising following our complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). 

The Electoral Commission’s advertisement misleadingly claimed that there exists “a range of organisations” that can “help address any concerns” relating to political advertising.
The reality is that election advertising is exempt from the regulatory codes that commercial advertisers are required to follow.

If a citizen wanted to stop an election advertisement from running because of a misleading claim, there isn’t an organisation to which they could complain and expect a resolution. 

The advertisement ran in a paid-for post on Twitter at the time of the “Super Thursday” elections in May of this year.
The ASA complaint was submitted by Reform Political Advertising, a pressure group campaigning for new rules to regulate the content of election advertising.

What were the motives for the Electoral Commission of publishing an advertisement of this nature?
There may well have been honourable intentions. 

It’s within the remit of the Electoral Commission to “promote public confidence in the democratic process” that takes place in the U.K.

The Electoral Commission may have noted the growing public disquiet about the poor conduct shown by election campaigners in their advertising in recent years.

In a similar vein to how the police use advertising to reduce the perception – and resulting fear – of crime, the Electoral Commission may have hoped to build confidence in our democracy with reassuring messages about (imaginary) checks and balances relating to election advertising.

Whilst the motive of creating confidence in our elections must be recognised as a benign one, it was a mistake to embellish the safeguards that exist and withdrawing the advertisement was the right thing to do.

A better use of future energy and resources would be for the Electoral Commission to give full-throated support for new regulations to govern the accuracy of election advertising content.

Benedict Pringle

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