Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Campaign Groups remain Gagged: Lords Rule on Political advertising case

Posted: 12 March 2008

The House of Lords today dismissed an appeal brought by Animal Defenders International challenging the restrictions on political advertising after an advertisement about the use of primates was banned from being broadcast on television or radio.

The decision was immediately condemned by Animal Defenders International and Amnesty International.

The challenge concerned the rights of campaign groups to use the broadcast media to create awareness and raise funds. At present UK law bans the broadcast of any advertisement which is an expression of opinion on a matter of controversy. Animal Defenders International argued that this sweeping ban is an unnecessary restriction on its right to freedom of expression.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive ADI: “This is extremely disappointing and we will now have to consider whether we take this matter to the European Court of Human Rights. The fact is that the UK Government prevents certain views from being expressed on television. It is legal for Pepsi to use a live performing chimpanzee to sell their drinks, but not for us to point out how animals like these are sourced, how they are kept and trained, before they go near a film set. Organisations like ours, despite considerable public support, remain gagged from broadcasting whilst Government and big business are given free rein.

Melvin Coleman of Amnesty International stated: “It is hugely disappointing that the Government’s rhetoric about encouraging and supporting a robust civil society comes to naught in the face of the Government’s own legislation. Amnesty International calls on the Government to take immediate steps to remove this unfair ban on our ability to use broadcast media to spread our message in the same way that the Government and big business freely do."

This is a particularly disappointing outcome as a decision on almost identical facts succeeded before the European Court of Human Rights. Animal Defenders and many other campaigning groups who wish to advertise in the broadcast media now have little choice but to take this battle to Strasbourg.

ADI instigated the legal challenge after a television advert as part of the My Mate’s a primate campaign was banned. ADI had responded to a television advert by soft drinks giant Pepsi using a performing chimpanzee, by placing an advert, with a voice over by comedian Alexei Sayle, highlighting the abuses of performing apes. The advert was banned.


At the Lords’ hearing last December, 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.

A TV advertisement, featuring Alexei Sayle, produced for ADI’s ‘My Mate’s a Primate’ campaign in 2005 was banned by the BACC (Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre). This was not because of the content of the advertisement, but because of what the organisation is – under the Communications Act 2003, ADI is deemed to be a ‘political’ group. 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.

Although ADI lost its case in the High Court in October 2006, 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. The case was heard on 17 December 2007.

In May 2007, ADI’s case received a boost when 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 Kennedy 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.

Copies of the banned advert and the ruling will be available from ADI.


For further information, please contact:

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive, or Tim Phillips, Campaigns Director
Animal Defenders International
Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4QP

Tel: 020 7630 3340
Mob: 07785 552548

The Hearing in the House of Lords dealt 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 non-governmental organisations (NGO) 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.

ADI is considering the possibility of taking the matter 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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