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Political Advertising - it's time for greater regulation

Tim Rickard


United Kingdom

On 8 October 2019, the UK House of Commons Library published a briefing paper about political advertising in the United Kingdom.

It serves as a useful reminder that there is currently a real lack of regulation for political advertising in the UK. Neither the Advertising Standards Agency ("ASA"), Electoral Commission, nor any other organisation see it as their role to monitor and regulate political advertisements.

This was not always the case. Until October 1999, non-broadcast political advertising was subject to the CAP Code and the remit of the ASA. However following the 1997 General Election, there were concerns that the impartiality of the advertising self-regulatory system could be damaged by rulings for or against political parties and the likelihood that complaints subject to ASA investigation would be ruled upon after an election had taken place.

Although complaints of political bias in TV or radio advertising can still be made to Ofcom, any non-broadcast advertisements (such as posters, newspapers, online ads, or social media posts) whose principal purpose is to influence voters in a local, regional, national or international election or referendum are exempt from the CAP Code. In reality this means that any complaints about non-broadcast political advertising can only be made directly to the party responsible for the advertising.

Clearly this is not satisfactory because it means that political parties can publish misleading political advertisements with very little fear of reproach or restriction. In a world where it can be difficult for consumers to establish whether a political advertisement is honest or misleading, it is clear that a regulator for political advertising should be established for that very purpose, as an independent body tasked with ensuring that any political advertisements are legal, decent, honest and truthful.  

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