Political ads review panel seeks to ‘dismantle’ argument against regulation

Political ads review panel seeks to ‘dismantle’ argument against regulation

Reform Political Advertising has set up a panel of seven experts to review factual claims in election ads.

The Electoral Advertising Review Panel will judge whether ads used in the general election are “truthfully presented”, in accordance with Reform Political Advertising’s electoral advertising code set out last year.

Chaired by Lord Puttnam, the panel includes representatives from fact-checking organisations, journalistic outlets and advertising organisations, and it will work in a similar way to the regulatory process at the Advertising Standards Authority.

Ads will be forwarded to the panel with a summary of the issue raised and accompanying evidence of any transgression.

Members of the panel will then be asked to provide a view within 24 hours on whether the ad meets the standards in the code.

Could a new political advertising code gain traction?

Analysis: Regulation is possible

Reform Political Advertising was set up in 2018 and campaigns for factual claims in electoral advertising to be regulated under a code agreed by all political parties.

In a conversation with The Media Leader, Alex Tait, co-founder of the group, said the aim of the review panel is to “dismantle all the arguments” around why electoral advertising regulation is not possible.

Arguments against election advertising regulation include concerns about restriction of free speech and logistical issues, with campaigns typically operating within shorter time frames and in a fast-paced environment with multiple creatives.

Tait disputed these suggestions, pointing to the politically neutral voluntary group setting up a similar panel for the 2022 local elections that went “very successfully”.

“To be really clear, this is not us trying to be a regulator. This is just demonstrating how it can work,” he stressed.

‘Low-hanging fruit’ to address disinformation

Tait described disinformation as “one of the issues of our time” and regulation of fact-based claims in election ads is “the low-hanging fruit” to address this issue.

He explained: “What’s become very apparent to us is just how pervasive disinformation is in elections and actually we believe we’ve seen examples of it swinging votes locally. And it just has a crazy effect on trust and politicians and democracy generally.”

The number one aim for the organisation is for its political advertising code, which was one of the top three recommendations of the House of Lords’ Democracy and Digital Technology Committee, to be adopted across parties.

In the local elections earlier this year, mayors including Sadiq Khan, Andy Burnham and Tracy Brabin, among other mayoral candidates from Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties, adopted calls for these measures to be put in place.

Tait remarked: “There has been quite good political reception to all this. When we started, it seemed like an incredibly difficult task and a big audacious goal, but we’re noticing quite a tide turning.”

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