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The case for political advertising on private television

Rónan Ó Fathaigh (UGent) and Hannes Cannie (UGent)
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Abstract
The advent of private television in Europe heralded a new age of broadcasting. No longer would monopolies control the flow of information in democracies, no longer would only one source of information reign. Private television has contributed significantly throughout Europe to strengthening democracies by providing additional avenues for citizens to access information and be exposed to different points of view. However, one mode of political speech has been banned in many European countries since the inception of television broadcasting, namely political advertising. This paper aims to assess the legitimacy and desirability of such bans with regard to the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. To this end, three jurisdictions will be examined, namely Belgium, Ireland and Finland. There exist cogent reasons that support a comparison of such jurisdictions. The choice of Belgium and Ireland is inspired by both countries having a similar population size, electoral system, public and commercial broadcasting sector, and most importantly, by both having to some degree installed a ban on political advertising on public and private television. In Ireland and Belgium’s French Community, this takes the form of a blanket ban. In Belgium’s Flemish Community, however, the new Media Decree now allows broadcasters to transmit political ads during pre-election periods. Yet, as the federal law on election expenditure still prescribes a ban on paid political advertising on radio and television in pre-election time, the Flemish regulation remains a dead letter. The choice of Finland on the other hand is motivated by this country being another European country with a similar population, electoral system and broadcasting sector, that in contrast allows for political advertising on television. Examination of the regulation and practical organisation thereof can provide meaningful insights in the added value of political advertising within a democracy. This paper firstly describes the current legal situation in Belgium and Ireland concerning political advertising. Secondly, a critique thereof is provided, in the light of the European Court of Human Rights’ case law and the Finnish example. Whereas there are strong arguments for disallowing political advertising on public service broadcasters, we argue that there is an overwhelming case for allowing such advertising on private television, based on Article 10 of the European Convention. Moreover, allowing political advertising on private television would have many positive effects. Firstly, smaller political parties and political advocacy groups would be able to disseminate their views, which would at the same time enable citizens to have access to an increased number of viewpoints, and secondly, private television broadcasters could arguably increase their advertising revenue, which in turn would lead to increased investment in high quality news and current affairs programmes. In addition, we argue that political advertising should not be limited to party political broadcasts during (pre-) election periods, but should also include human rights groups advocating changes in law or governmental policy, environmental groups criticising government, and many other forms of political speech. In short, this paper aims to put forward a working model for allowing political advertising on private television in Belgium and Ireland.
Keywords
Commercial Broadcasters, Freedom of Expression, Political Advertising

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Chicago
Ó Fathaigh, Rónan, and Hannes Cannie. 2011. “The Case for Political Advertising on Private Television.” In 20 Years of Private Television Conference, Proceedings. Brussels, Belgium: Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
APA
Ó Fathaigh, R., & Cannie, H. (2011). The case for political advertising on private television. 20 years of private television conference, Proceedings. Presented at the 20 Years of Private Television Conference, Brussels, Belgium: Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
Vancouver
1.
Ó Fathaigh R, Cannie H. The case for political advertising on private television. 20 years of private television conference, Proceedings. Brussels, Belgium: Vrije Universiteit Brussel; 2011.
MLA
Ó Fathaigh, Rónan, and Hannes Cannie. “The Case for Political Advertising on Private Television.” 20 Years of Private Television Conference, Proceedings. Brussels, Belgium: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 2011. Print.
@inproceedings{1214472,
  abstract     = {The advent of private television in Europe heralded a new age of broadcasting. No longer would monopolies control the flow of information in democracies, no longer would only one source of information reign. Private television has contributed significantly throughout Europe to strengthening democracies by providing additional avenues for citizens to access information and be exposed to different points of view. However, one mode of political speech has been banned in many European countries since the inception of television broadcasting, namely political advertising. This paper aims to assess the legitimacy and desirability of such bans with regard to the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. To this end, three jurisdictions will be examined, namely Belgium, Ireland and Finland. There exist cogent reasons that support a comparison of such jurisdictions. The choice of Belgium and Ireland is inspired by both countries having a similar population size, electoral system, public and commercial broadcasting sector, and most importantly, by both having to some degree installed a ban on political advertising on public and private television. In Ireland and Belgium{\textquoteright}s French Community, this takes the form of a blanket ban. In Belgium{\textquoteright}s Flemish Community, however, the new Media Decree now allows broadcasters to transmit political ads during pre-election periods. Yet, as the federal law on election expenditure still prescribes a ban on paid political advertising on radio and television in pre-election time, the Flemish regulation remains a dead letter. The choice of Finland on the other hand is motivated by this country being another European country with a similar population, electoral system and broadcasting sector, that in contrast allows for political advertising on television. Examination of the regulation and practical organisation thereof can provide meaningful insights in the added value of political advertising within a democracy. This paper firstly describes the current legal situation in Belgium and Ireland concerning political advertising. Secondly, a critique thereof is provided, in the light of the European Court of Human Rights{\textquoteright} case law and the Finnish example. Whereas there are strong arguments for disallowing political advertising on public service broadcasters, we argue that there is an overwhelming case for allowing such advertising on private television, based on Article 10 of the European Convention. Moreover, allowing political advertising on private television would have many positive effects. Firstly, smaller political parties and political advocacy groups would be able to disseminate their views, which would at the same time enable citizens to have access to an increased number of viewpoints, and secondly, private television broadcasters could arguably increase their advertising revenue, which in turn would lead to increased investment in high quality news and current affairs programmes. In addition, we argue that political advertising should not be limited to party political broadcasts during (pre-) election periods, but should also include human rights groups advocating changes in law or governmental policy, environmental groups criticising government, and many other forms of political speech. In short, this paper aims to put forward a working model for allowing political advertising on private television in Belgium and Ireland.},
  author       = {{\'O} Fathaigh, R{\'o}nan and Cannie, Hannes},
  booktitle    = {20 years of private television conference, Proceedings},
  keyword      = {Commercial Broadcasters,Freedom of Expression,Political Advertising},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Brussels, Belgium},
  pages        = {16},
  publisher    = {Vrije Universiteit Brussel},
  title        = {The case for political advertising on private television},
  year         = {2011},
}