Same sex marriage plebiscite – advertising complaint considerations


Will complaints about advertisements regarding the same sex marriage plebiscite (officially known as the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey) be subject to consideration by the Advertising Standards Board?
In short, most likely no!
It is likely that most advertisements discussing or advocating the respective yes or no cases or participation or otherwise in the survey will be considered to be political advertising.
Political advertising is not considered by the Advertising Standards Board (Ad Board) under section 2 of the AANA Code of Ethics for several reasons:

  • The advertising self-regulation system was established as an industry initiative with the objective of regulating commercial communications, not advertisements containing political claims aimed at influencing the political process.
  • It is important to the Ad Board’s integrity that it is seen as an impartial adjudicator, free from perceptions of political bias.
  • Adjudicating on complaints about election advertising could be regarded as unduly restricting the implied constitutional freedom of political communication or interfering with the political process.

In the view of the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB), it is not possible to make decisions about whether a political or election advertisement breaches the Code without the potential for being seen to be taking a political viewpoint.

How does ASB define ‘political advertising’?
Political advertising is advertising that attempts to influence or comment upon a matter which is currently the subject of extensive political debate.
Political advertising includes advertising or marketing communications about a political party, representative or candidate, advertising about political issues or issues of public interest, and advertising in relation to government policies (whether published/broadcast by the government or someone else). Advertising by government, political parties, lobby groups and other interest groups may fall into this category.

So what complaints will the Ad Board consider?
Some advertising on the issue of same sex marriage by governments, lobby groups, interest groups or even companies, may be regarded as informational or educational rather than political. This is determined by the ASB on a case-by-case basis. Complaints about informational or educational advertisements on same sex marriage or the plebiscite which raise issues under section 2 of the AANA Code of Ethics may be considered by the Ad Board.

What media can be considered?
Complaints about advertising on any and all forms of media can be directed to ASB.

Offensiveness in same sex marriage or plebiscite advertising
Complainants may raise issues about the offensiveness of informational or educational advertising, pertinent to section 2 of the AANA Code of Ethics.
Section 2 of the AANA Code of Ethics sets out minimum standards for advertising content. Advertising campaigns should respect community standards around acceptability of advertising – regardless of whether such advertising is political or not – and ensure that advertising on any media:

  • Does not portray people or depict material in a way which discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.
  • Does not employ sexual appeal: (a) where images of Minors, or people who appear to be Minors, are used; or (b) in a manner which is exploitative and degrading of any individual or group of people.
  • Does not present or portray violence unless it is justifiable in the context of the product or service advertised.
  • Treats sex, sexuality and nudity with sensitivity to the relevant audience.
  • Only uses language which is appropriate in the circumstances (including appropriate for the relevant audience and medium). Strong or obscene language shall be avoided.
  • Does not depict material contrary to Prevailing Community Standards on health and safety.
  • Is clearly distinguishable as advertising material to the relevant audience.

Where can we direct complaints about truth in same sex marriage plebiscite ads?
Many public complaints regarding political advertising raise issues about the truth and accuracy of the advertisement, in particular concerns that the advertising is misleading. The Ad Board considers complaints under section 2 of the AANA Code of Ethics, which does not cover matters of truth and accuracy.
The ASB ordinarily refers public complainants with concerns about the truth or accuracy of advertisements to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) or the State/Territory consumer affairs/fair trading body. However, although these organisations deal with claims of false and misleading advertising, their jurisdictions are limited to matters involving trade and commerce and do not extend to political advertising.
Currently, there is no legal requirement for the content of political advertising to be factually correct. Complainants are advised to raise their concerns with the advertiser directly.

Do advertisements need to be tagged?
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) – The ACMA has responsibility for the regulation of political and election matter in the broadcast media under the Broadcasting Services Act, although this does not extend to online material, matters of truth and accuracy or defamatory statements. The ACMA has published further information on broadcasting and communication of political and election matter which provides further guidance and is available on its website.

9 comment

  • Matthew Geary - 24 November 2017 - 10:43am

    The two advertisements that I dislike the most. 1) The aero guard ad with a family playing backyard cricket, and the father is trying to encourage his son to keep on trying. he is been buzzed by a fly and starts to shoo the fly away. His mother then yells at the father saying that he is putting to much pressure on the boy. He then goes into the house and sprays himself with aero guard and come out again. 2) a women turns up to a house that is under construction with a builder. He asks all the workers as to why they are taking so long and they are all waiting on someone else and then continue to look up a betting app on their phones.

  • vanessa - 16 November 2017 - 1:31pm

    This same sex married bill just sent this country straight to hell this is an abomination and against god. And the only reason it was voted in was because it involves a coup, more than one shadowy deal, and a ton of shameless political maneuvering it ruins the sanctity of marriage and I will never ever agree with it. This should have been sent to all households in this country and not just registered voters everybody should have been able to have their say that's discrimination in itself.

  • Mike Roycroft - 23 September 2017 - 6:17pm

    I received this text from !
    This text not only offends me but contravenes my privacy !
    My question is how did they access my contact number and do they have the legal right by using this illegal procedure to cohorce me in voting yes!

    The Marriage Equality Survey forms have arrived! Help make history and vote YES for a fairer Australia.

  • Gordon Stewart - 23 September 2017 - 12:52pm

    I object to receiving unsolicited text messages from any party

    It's the same as junk mail

  • Carol - 20 September 2017 - 9:26pm

    Attempted lodge complaint regarding add from no campaign that pictured a distressed child with the heading children have a right to mother and father.

    I understand the situation the advertising board is in and appreciate the quick response I received but surely telling children they should be distressed for not having a mother and father is a discrimatory and very harmful to all the children who don't for various reasons: death, separation, abandonment, abuse etc. have a mother and father.

    The add is also factually wrong, there is no 'right' to both a mother and father.

    Was wondering where I could go to lodge a complaint concerning an add that places children at risk of harm? Couldn't quiet work it out from the email - surely political adds should not be exempt from placing children at risk.

  • Leuntje R. van Brandwijk - 15 September 2017 - 3:44pm

    I find the ad for the no vote on television to be offensive and misleading and ethically wrong. It in my eyes seems to be a blatant lie.

  • Tom Celebrezze - 7 September 2017 - 7:46pm

    Question for the bureau: Does there need to be any nexus between the political issue being advertised (no or yes on marriage equality) and the content of the advertisement for the advertisement to be 'political'?

  • Anita Martin - 31 August 2017 - 7:42pm

    Offensive to many of my friends and family!

  • Robyn Murphy - 30 August 2017 - 9:41pm

    The womantalking about her son being told he could wear a dress to school, is refuted by the school principle & teacher/s, no one should be allowed to blatantly lie, it may not contravene the 'standards' but it's so ethiclly wrong. No your not responsible for what others say/do, this sort of advertising adversly affects many young of the GLBTI community.

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