Thursday, November 20, 2008

The ASA does it again

Just before the election, the Advertising Standards Authority - the body responsible for regulating all non-broadcast advertising in New Zealand - upheld a complaint that a Labour party ad was "misleading". Now they've done it again, this time to ACT. ACT produced newspaper advertisements and flyers saying that they were the "only party totally opposed to an ETS", and the only party which would dump it and pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. An activist from the Family Party - to which most people would go "who?" - complained on the grounds that their party would do so as well (climate change obviously being the will of god or something). The ASA agreed with the Family Party, ruling that the existence of another party, no matter how tiny and unelectable, made the ads misleading, and a statement of opinion disguised as fact.

Media lawyer Stephen Price has attacked the Labour YouTube ruling as failing to properly allow for political advocacy and to apply the Bill of Rights Act. This ruling seems to suffer from the same flaws. Yes, technically ACT were wrong. But not in any way which mattered. No voters would have been misled about their position (quite the contrary), or about the positions of the parties they were competing with for votes - a group which did not, realistically, include the Family party.

This doesn't mean I think politicians should be allowed to get away with telling blatant lies. But politics is about rhetoric, and there needs to be some space for that and for the normal exaggerations they make. Applying a hyper-technical standard to political advertising may give the ASA their jollies, but ultimately it would prevent politicians from being able to properly represent their positions and contrast them with those of their opponents. And our political discourse would be significantly poorer as a result.

(As for the second complaint, ACT has only itself to blame if it doesn't respond properly. While international comparisons of crime statistics are a source of endless arguments, I'm surprised they didn't even bother to provide the stats backing up their claim - and under such circumstances, i can't blame anyone for concluding that there weren't any, and they were just making it all up).