Editorial: Can money outdo democracy?

Some fear that we might legalise the indirect political TV campaigns of America

Related Topics

One thing upon which most Europeans would agree is that we do not want politics like that in America, where money dominates everything. That is the ghastly prospect held out by alarmists if, as expected, the European Court of Human Rights rules tomorrow in favour of the chimpanzee.

As we report today, the Grand Chamber, the appeal court of the European Court, is likely to rule in favour of Animal Defenders, which wanted to show an advertisement for its My Mate's a Primate campaign on British television. The 20-second commercial showed a young girl in a cage, with a caption saying: "A chimp has the mental and emotional age of a four-year-old child." It went on to show a chimpanzee with a voiceover saying: "Although they share 98 per cent of our genetic make-up they are still caged and abused to entertain."

It is against the law in Britain to show such "political" advertising on television. The definition of "political" in the Communications Act 2003 is wide, covering not just attempts to influence the outcome of elections but also to bring about a change in the law or the policies of governments or public officials anywhere in the world.

Animal Defenders argues that the British law is contrary to the right to freedom of expression, protected by article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. So it is. The question is whether the public interest is served by the British system of a blanket ban on political advertising on television balanced by free party political broadcasts and, at the last election, the televised leaders' debates.

Our view is that this arrangement has served us well enough, but technology is changing and the restriction of free expression in the 2003 Act goes too far. That has not been a particularly burdensome restriction, but one of the great virtues of the European Convention is that it does eventually force us to consider such fundamental questions from first principles. And the principle here is that organisations such as Animal Defenders, which last week succeeded in its campaign to ban wild animals from British circuses, should have the right to advertise on television.

If that is what the Grand Chamber decides tomorrow, that does not mean that British law will have to be changed to allow all political advertising. It may be that a simple amendment of the definition of "political" is all that is required, so that it applies only to elections. The Charity Commission recently allowed a similar relaxation in its definition of the political activities in which charities were permitted to engage.

Naturally, we should consider, in addition to human rights law and British statute law, the law of unintended consequences. Some people will fear that, by allowing charities and cuddly animal campaigners on to television, we would legalise the kind of indirect political campaigns that channel so much money in America. But the notorious political action committees, or PACs, in the States are those that seek to influence elections or referendums, and the crucial point about the American system is that parties are so much weaker, forcing candidates to raise money for their personal campaigns.

If the European Court of Human Rights asks Britain to respect the right of freedom of expression tomorrow, we have nothing to fear.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping the child abuse taking place now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower