Election advertising is a nightmare at the best of times with many political parties struggling to comply with the often pedantic and sometimes ridiculous guidelines that are in place. This is especially true for small parties who do not have the millions of dollars that the larger parties have to pay people to double check the fine print before they commit to a print run or an advertising schedule.
Therefore the role of the different media and advertising regulators becomes extremely important for the democratic process at election time.
My party, the Australian Sex Party, has just been subjected to gross negligence and possibly an illegal ruling on the part of one regulator, which could have a real bearing on the makeup of the next Senate. Commercials Advice (CAD), a division of Free TV and Australia's self-regulatory body for Australian television advertising, has banned a series of our television ads which advocated a policy of 'voluntary euthanasia'. The ads had been approved for broadcast by CAD over four weeks ago on 1stAugust and were due to start screening today. At 4pm last Friday, when all production studio facilities had closed for the weekend and there was no possibility of changing or amending the ads, I was told by CAD that the ads were in breach of their guidelines and unless amended, would be taken off air. The reason they had waited four weeks to inform me that they had changed their mind, was an 'administrative error' they said but that there was no room for a change in the decision.
CAD's actions constitute a direct interference in the free and fair distribution of political information in the final stages of a federal election and contradict the High Court ruling on political advertising established in 1992 in Nationwide News Pty Ltd v Wills and Australian Capital Television Pty Ltd v Commonwealth (ACTV) 177 CLR 1. The High Court held that there was an implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution, basing their decision on the representative nature of our democracy.
Their decision to wait until the eve of the advertisement's broadcast to change their decision, is, at best, evidence of gross negligence and a partisan attitude toward a political party at election time. The ads simply had the words, 'voluntary euthanasia', printed on the screen with my voice over them, telling viewers that the party's position was to support people's rights to die with dignity. Our ads neither depicted a method of suicide nor promoted or encouraged suicide. They simply stated the party's policy.
I have called on the Communications Minister, Anthony Albanese and Opposition spokesperson, Malcolm Turnbull, to come out and say where they stand on the issue and whether as a Minister in one week's time, they would uphold CAD's decision or allow TV stations to run the ads without any penalty. Given that a 'Yes' or 'No' would be fuel for further debate I doubt that I will hear from either of them. This reluctance to comment on issues like this in an election period is part of the problem here and CAD would no doubt have been relying on this to try and ram home such a disgraceful course of action.
CAD Guidelines (2.17.5 ) state that, 'Realistic depiction of methods of suicide, or promotion or encouragement of suicide' is deemed to be 'Material Not Suitable for Television'. Under CAD's interpretation of this, a political advertisement calling for reform of the laws around voluntary euthanasia in Australia, is deemed to be 'promoting suicide'. Most reasonable people would consider such an interpretation to be ridiculous and completely outside what is fair and reasonable in the context of an election.
CAD is an organisation that TV stations fund to be an independent arbiter of TV standards. When CAD stamps and numbers an advertisement, clients have an expectation that they will stand by their decisions or at least advise a client within a reasonable period of any changes to their decisions. In this case CAD's decision will have a significant impact on the vote that a small party like the Sex Party might receive, which in turn could affect the makeup of a future parliament. CAD's decision has caused the Sex Party to have to dump half of its entire advertising schedule.
I am calling on TV stations and other media outlets to broadcast the advertisement as editorial and to take a stand against the censorship of political ideas and policies. Especially ones that have proven majority public support.
The ad can be viewed online here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocwJHx35DUc&feature=youtu.be
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