Animal rights group defeated in move that would have opened up paid UK political advertising

 

Brussels

An animal rights group has narrowly lost an attempt to open up paid political advertising in the UK.

Human rights judges in Strasbourg ruled in a 9-8 test case verdict that Government refusal to allow Animal Defenders International to screen a TV advert promoting animal rights was not a breach of ADI's freedom of expression.

The blanket ban in the UK is designed to prevent a political advertising free-for-all in which the richest have most access to promote their views - US-style aggressive political advertising.

Today's verdict rejected a complaint by the animal rights non-government organisation that denying it the possibility to advertise on TV or radio breached the European Human Rights Convention, which guarantees free speech.

The ruling by the smallest possible majority of the Strasbourg judges declared: "The court noted that both parties (ADI and the Government) maintained that they were protecting the democratic process.

"It found in particular that the reviews of the ban by both parliamentary and judicial bodies had been exacting and pertinent, taking into account the European Court's case law."

The judges said the ban only applied to advertising and ADI had access to "alternative media, both broadcast and non-broadcast".

The ruling also pointed out that there was a "lack of European consensus" on how to regulate paid political advertising in broadcasting - giving the UK Government "more room for manoeuvre when deciding on such matters as restricting public interest debate".

The verdict concluded: "Overall, the court found that the reasons given to justify the ban were convincing and that the ban did not therefore go too far in restricting the right to participate in public debate."

Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: "We welcome the fact the European Court has upheld the UK's blanket ban on political advertising.

"Political adverts are - and have always been - banned on British TV and radio. That ban has wide support and has helped sustain the balance of views which is at the heart of British broadcasting - and ensures the political views broadcast into our homes are not determined by those with the deepest pockets.

"This case was not about the particular views of this."

Ms Miller went on: "This case was not about the particular views of this organisation, but about the fact the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre considered that broadcasting this advert would breach the ban on political advertising in the UK."

The case was triggered by the BACC's refusal in 2005 to allow UK-based ADI, which campaigns against animal suffering, to run a TV advert juxtaposing images of a girl and then a chimpanzee in chains in an animal cage.

The BAAC said ADI's objectives were political in nature, and such a broadcast would breach the 2003 Communications Act.

The High Court and the House of Lords agreed and ADI went to the Human Rights Court.

Today's ruling said the Government and ADI had the same objective of "maintaining a free and pluralist debate on matters of public interest, and more generally, of contributing to the democratic process".

The human rights question was whether the ban went too far in restricting the right to participate in public debate.

The balance was between the NGO's right to impart information and ideas of general interest which the public was entitled to receive, and the authorities' wish to "protect the democratic debate and process from distortion by powerful financial groups with advantageous access to influential media".

The judges said they had taken account of the "complex" regulatory regime governing political broadcasting in the UK had been subjected to "exacting and pertinent" reviews and validated by both parliamentary and judicial bodies.

And at all stages, the compatibility of the law with the Human Rights Convention had been considered.

UK broadcast media was influential, with an immediate and powerful impact, and there was no evidence that this influence had been altered by the rise of the internet and social media to an extent which undermined the current broadcast restrictions.

Advertisers were well aware of the advantages of broadcast advertising, and continued to be prepared to pay "large sums" which went "far beyond" the reach of NGOs wishing to participate in the public debate.

The ruling pointed out that the ban was relaxed "in a controlled fashion" for political parties - the bodies most centrally part of the democratic process - by providing them with free party political, party election and referendum campaign broadcasts.

But, warned the judges: "Allowing a less restrictive prohibition could give rise to abuse and arbitrariness, such as wealthy bodies with agendas being fronted by social advocacy groups created for that precise purpose or creating a large number of similar interest groups, thereby accumulating advertising time."

ADI chief executive Jan Creamer said: "This is a profoundly sad day for democracy. It is unjust that companies can advertise without being challenged.

"This judgment has denied the right of ADI and other similar campaign and advocacy groups to refute advertising claims made by companies."

An ADI statement said the advert was tailored to comply with broadcasting rules but was banned because ADI was deemed to be a "political" group.

"At present, advertising laws effectively ban the broadcast of any advertisement on a matter of controversy. So, whilst primates and other animals can be used to sell products or services, it is not permitted to create awareness about the impacts of these actions on those animals.

"The injustice of the situation was highlighted at the time by the fact that soft drinks giant Pepsi were using a performing chimpanzee in a TV commercial," said the statement.

Tamsin Allen, a media partner at London law firm Bindmans LLP, which represented ADI, pointed out that the minority eight of the 17 human rights judges had accepted the case that the UK ban on all political advertising was an "inappropriate and unnecessary" restriction on free speech.

In their "dissenting judgment" the eight described the scale of the ban as "a harsher constriction of freedom than is necessary in a democratic society", adding: "Freedom of expression is based on the assumption that the speakers, not the Government, know best what they want to say and how to say it..."

Ms Allen said many small advocacy groups would be "extremely disappointed" that the majority of the judges had disagreed.

The Electoral Reform Society welcomed the verdict, saying that lifting the ban would have escalated an "arms race" on political spending.

Chief executive Katie Ghose said: This ruling should be welcome news to all democrats. Lifting the ban would have irrevocably changed the political landscape in Britain, and not for the better.

"The last Senate race in Pennsylvania cost more than our three main parties spent on the last General Election combined. And it didn't buy a higher quality of debate - just back-to-back attack ads."

She added: "The US experience shows the only people who would profit from TV attack ads are moneyed interest groups, TV networks and paid political consultants. The biggest loser would be democratic debate in Britain."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links