Why the ASA does not regulate political advertising

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is in the news today for two reasons – today is the day the ASA’s remit extends in the online world and it’s also in the news for (rightly) rejecting requests to rule on a controversial advert for May’s electoral reform referendum.

That its remit does not extend to such advertisements has come in for a fair amount of criticism and expressions of surprise, even though the ASA’s decision last century to pull out from such regulation was not really controversial at the time. Why then did it pull out?

A House of Commons Library briefing paper neatly summarises it:

Since 2000 political advertising in the non-broadcast media (i.e. newspapers, bill boards etc) that aims to influence voters in elections or referendums has been exempt from the “British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing”.

This exemption was made on the grounds that it was not appropriate for the ASA, as a non-elected body, to intervene in the democratic process, that ASA rulings would have little practical value because the complex issues involved meant that rulings would probably be made after election day, that judgements would inevitably be within the arena of political debate and that party political advertisements are always subject to a disproportionate amount of media scrutiny.


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