Complaints about political advertising
Ad Standards has received complaints recently about political advertising, including messages associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the advertising codes we administer cover a wide range of issues of concern to the Australian community, there are some that fall outside our jurisdiction – including advertisements that deal with political or public policy issues.
While we understand that many in the community would like these ads to be subject to the same standards as other types of advertising, there are a few reasons why Ad Standards may not accept a complaint about them.
1. We regulate commercial marketing and advertising
Australia’s advertising self-regulation system is designed to regulate commercial marketing and advertising of products and services.
The Ad Standards Community Panel assesses concerns that raise an issue under the advertising industry codes. Often issues raised will be covered by the AANA Code of Ethics and include things like discrimination, offensive language, sex and nudity, and distinguishable advertising.
The Community Panel also considers a range of issues related to advertising children’s products, food and beverages, motor vehicles and wagering products and services as well environmental claims in advertising.
2. The content must meet the definition of an ‘ad’
The content complained about must also meet the definition of advertising in the advertising codes for Ad Standards to accept the complaint. Public statements, public affairs messages and media releases can’t be assessed by Ad Standards. Rather than advertising a product or service, they’re promoting an idea or a point of view.
These types of statements can appear on all advertising platforms including free-to-air TV, SMS, pamphlets and billboards but still not be an ad for a product or service. More information on how we define advertising can be found on the advertising issues page.
3. We don’t regulate public debate
Another hallmark of this type of content is that it’s part of public debate about a contentious and polarising issue. It’s the role of the Ad Standards Community Panel to represent the standards of the wider Australian community in relation to commercial marketing and advertising content. Political and public policy ads typically inspire contention and debate about viewpoints and ideas.
It’s not possible for Ad Standards or the Community Panel to make decisions about whether this kind of content breaches the codes without being seen to take a political viewpoint. This would make it impossible for the Panel to fulfil its duty to represent the many diverse views of the Australian community.
What about community service announcements?
While political advertising falls outside our remit, Ad Standards may look at complaints about advertisements in the form of community service announcements about widely accepted matters of concern like drink driving, disaster relief or cyber bullying if they raise an issue under the advertising codes.
Complaints which may be accepted for adjudication will be about the imagery or language used, for example. Complaints about the truth or accuracy of these ads however do not fall within the jurisdiction of the codes.
Making a complaint about political advertising
The best course of action for anyone with concerns about political advertising is to contact the organisation responsible for the ad and tell them what you think.
Other organisations which look at specific areas of concern and will accept complaints about things you see, read or hear in the Australian media are listed on our website.