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ASA must police factual accuracy of political ads

2 August 2005

ASA must police factual accuracy of political advertising

The Advertising Standards Authority is washing its hands of its central responsibility at election time in its initial finding on a complaint on the National Party's 'Iwi - Kiwi' billboard, Green Party Treaty Issues Spokesperson Nandor Tanczos says. Green New Lynn candidate and Treaty educator Richard Green is appealing the ASA's rejection of his complaint against 'Iwi - Kiwi', citing five grounds that the ruling was incorrect. The central matter is that the billboards are factually incorrect because Labour's Foreshore and Seabed legislation vested ownership of the nation's beaches with the Crown, not Iwi.

"What most concerns me is the ASA's statement that it would be 'inappropriate for the Complaints Board to decide on a matter that was rightly in the hands of the voter'," Nandor says.

"If an advertiser makes inaccurate claims about, say, food, the ASA would not leave it to 'the hands of the shopper'. The very reason for the ASA's existence is to ensure that people are not misled by unscrupulous advertising. They would order a billboard making false claims about tomato sauce to be pulled down; a political party billboard should be no different.

"It is a fact that Labour's Foreshore and Seabed Act does not vest ownership of the beaches with Iwi. It is simply not good enough for the ASA to wash its hands of its responsibility to be the voters' watchdog of factual accuracy.

"Voters have to make an informed decision. Politicians can state their opinions in their advertising, but they should not be allowed to misrepresent the facts and mislead the voters. The ASA is charged with ensuring that advertising is accurate, so it is clearly the body that should be policing political ads. And given the heated atmosphere of an election campaign, it should be doing that in a timely fashion."

In his letter of appeal to the ASA Mr Green states: "Although the voter has a choice in terms of who they vote for in the election, they cannot 'vote' on what certain political parties choose to put on their billboards. It is through the Advertising Standards Authority that the public are able to voice their opinions. The Board's role is to decide on what is appropriate advertising, and not leave it "in the hands of the voter" to decide at a later date."

Nandor: "Come on ASA, let's get this sorted."

ENDS

See Richard Green's letter of appeal below.

Heather McKenzie Deputy Secretary Advertising Standards Authority PO Box 10-675 Wellington

Re: National Party "Beaches" Billboard Advertisement - complaint 05/220

Dear Heather,

I am writing to appeal the decision concerning the above complaint as received by me Thursday 21st July 2005.

I do not believe that the ruling was considered enough and I would like the complaint reheard based on the following:

1. Code of Ethics: Rule 2 - The advertisement creates an overall impression which, by implication, is misleading in that it leads the public to believe that under Labour's Foreshore and Seabed legislation, iwi acquired the beaches. This is in fact untrue. The advertisement implies that Labour acted in the best interests of iwi, when in reality the legislation has restricted Mäori and denied them various rights regarding the foreshore and seabed. Therefore, for National to suggest that Labour favor iwi is clearly misleading.

2. Code of Ethics: Rule 11 - The advertisement does not distinguish between what is factual information and what is opinion. Although National may argue that the advertisement simply represents their "opinion", there is certainly not enough information on the billboard for the public to adequately distinguish between whether the information is factual or simply opinion. Clearly, National's goal was to gain support by taking advantage of the public's misconceptions and ignorance regarding the legislation.

3. Expressing opinion "as to what could, or would happen" - The Chairman of the Complaints Board states that National were simply expressing an opinion "as to what could, or would happen" if Labour were elected to power. The fact is that the Foreshore and Seabed legislation has already been brought into effect and is reality. It is a fact that the Crown now has legal title to the foreshore and seabed, not iwi - this being contrary to what National's billboard implies.

4. Matter "in the hands of the voter" - The Chairman claims that it would be "inappropriate for the Complaints Board to decide on a matter that was rightly in the hands of the "voter". However, it is submitted that it is precisely the function of the Complaints Board to decide on what is appropriate and inappropriate in terms of advertising. The fact that an election is coming up should have no bearing on any decisions made by the Board.

Although the voter has a choice in terms of who they vote for in the election, they cannot "vote" on what certain political parties choose to put on their billboards. It is through the Advertising Standards Authority that the public are able to voice their opinions. The Board's role is to decide on what is appropriate advertising, and not leave it "in the hands of the voter" to decide at a later date.

5. In regards to an "infringement of other people's rights", because the board specifically targets iwi, it infringes on tangata whenua rights to have the correct information conveyed to the public. On a wider level, the billboard also infringes on the general public's right to have accurate information, particularly when the information in question is crucial to their ability to make an informed choice (through the medium on advertising) about their voting decision. Just because the information comes from a political party, no advertising law gives them permission to express lies. I reiterate that it is the ASA's responsibility to make sure ALL advertising is in fact not misleading, inaccurate or lies.

I thank you in anticipation of your reconsideration of this matter.

Yours sincerely,

Richard Green

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