Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

ADI challenge to ban on political advertising goes to House of Lords: 17/18 December 2007

Posted: 17 December 2007

ADI’s challenge to the Government’s ban on so-called ‘political’ broadcast advertising by animal, environmental and human rights organizations, will be heard in Committee Room 1 in the House of Lords from 11am – 4pm on 17th December & from 10.30am on 18th December.

A TV advertisement produced for ADI’s ‘My Mate’s a Primate’ campaign in 2005 was banned by the BACC (The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre. This was not because of the content of the advertisement, but because NAVS and ADI are deemed to be ‘political’ groups under the Communications Act 2003.

ADI issued a High Court challenge on the basis that the ban violates the right to freedom of expression and that the relevant provisions of the Communications Act 2003 are incompatible with human rights.

ADI argued that the ban is too widely drafted – it includes organisations whose aim is to influence public opinion; the ban is not a justified interference with the right to freedom of expression because it is unnecessary and disproportionate. ADI also said that it creates unfairness so that, for example, an oil company can broadcast a vanity advertisement claiming that it has green credentials, but environmental organisations cannot respond in the broadcast media. Likewise, ADI cannot advertise in the same media to criticise companies using animals in entertainment.

Although ADI lost its case in the High Court in October of last year, the Court felt that the case needed to be heard and therefore gave permission for ADI to leapfrog the Court of Appeal and take the case straight to the House of Lords.

In May, the report of the Advisory Group on Campaigning and the Voluntary Sector, chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC, agreed that the Communications Act 2003 has a censoring effect on the voluntary sector.

The May report recommends:

  • the ban in the Act on all broadcast advertising by ‘political’ organisations should be repealed;
  • a new legislative framework should permit in principle non-political advertising by NGOs and charities;
  • the definition of political in the Act should be amended so as to permit the broadcast of social advocacy advertisements on radio and television but restrict the broadcast of advertising for political parties;
  • a new regulatory framework should allow ‘political’ (including party political) advertising by NGOs, but it should state that it contains political content/represents the opinion of the advertiser/state the source of funding;
  • consideration should be given to a moratorium on all political and social advocacy advertising in the broadcast media during local and national election periods.


The Hearing in the House of Lords will deal with the same issues as the Divisional Court and ADI’s arguments will be similar:

  • The ban is not compatible with Article 10 of the European convention on Human Rights, because it is not necessary in a democratic society.
  • Necessary is defined as conforming to a pressing social need. There is no pressing social need for a ban this wide – ADI concedes there is a need for some form of ban (e.g. on party political broadcasts/broadcasts aimed at electoral influence), but that should be tailored and go no further than necessary.
  • The current ban is so wide that it does not allow NGO’s and charities to engage in debate using the broadcast media.
  • The Divisional Court assumed that the broadcast media have a special potency and impact and that led them to believe the ban was justified. ADI says that is a matter for content regulation (e.g. to prevent shocking or offensive images being broadcast) but does not justify a ban on all advertising by NGO’s and bodies who operate in a controversial area. In any event, the evidence seems to show that TV is no more effective as an advertising medium than any other, particularly magazines which are more effective on their own.
  • If ADI succeeds, the ban will be declared incompatible and the government will have to amend the legislation and re-work the ban. That means that it is likely that campaign organisations not involved in party political activities or advertising will be able to broadcast their message and raise money using TV and radio.
  • If ADI loses, the organization will be looking for a way to finance the case up to the European Court.

ADI’s My Mate’s a Primate Campaign

  • The banned TV ad was part of ADI‘s “My Mate’s a Primate” campaign launched last summer to protect primates against their use by commercial interests for entertainment (circuses, films, TV programmes & advertising), the pet trade, in experiments and as bushmeat (wildlife food) and to conserve their habitat.
  • The campaign highlighted how we are encroaching on more and more of the planet. For instance, the unprecedented clearing of African forests by logging companies has opened the way for hunters to ‘take’ over $2 billion worth of wildlife a year. This is having a devastating effect on our environment as the ‘empty forest’ syndrome in parts of Africa bears witness.
  • Primates are primarily found in tropical rainforests and play an important part in the ecosystem helping to disperse seeds and pollinate plants. To meet the demands of the global trade in endangered species nearly 40,000 primates are taken out of their habitat. Their removal upsets the balance of nature and presents a major threat to the environment.

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