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October 15, 2008

Political Fix-It List: ONE: Political Advertising

This is the first in an occasional series of posts designed to highlight systemic problems with our political system and to begin to suggest possible ways of getting at the solution.

Political advertising

We need a truth-in-political advertising law that requires that all political advertising be rigorously fact-checked for accuracy before being released to the public and that heavily penalizes candidates who deliberately seek to sabotage their opponents' campaigns and defame their reputations through attack ads and smear campaigns.

As it stands, there is no penalty for launching attack ads designed to damage the public's perception of a political opponent; for making false claims about political achievements (past, present, or pending); or  deliberately misrepresenting key facts about the campaign platforms and personal/professional backgrounds of political opponents.

We have truth in advertising laws governing other types of products and services. Why should politicians and political parties -- who are making product claims about their ability to govern our country -- be exempt from such legislation? Just because we've always accepted dishonesty and false claims -- and, increasingly, attack ads and blatant misrepresentations of the other candidates' campaigns -- doesn't mean that we should tolerate this in any future election campaigns.

 "We need a system in which purveyors and sponsors of misleading political ads will be penalized for doing so. We need a system that would look at each ad and investigate it, that will break down the message and its claims, that will track the facts and not fear calling such ads "misleading," "exaggerated," "spin." This should help viewers evaluate the ads, and the candidate who "approved this message. Free speech should not entitle a candidate to lie."
- Marc Raizman, Daily Camera

"There's no reason consumers should be protected from disinformation any more than citizens should. Our democracy hangs in the balance."
- Julian Friedland, Daily Camera



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And a great climate, too, damnit. That's fabulous info, Melanie. Thank you.

Deb: I love your idea of having a non-profit manage and moderate the debates. That is brilliant. In terms of your question (to add to what Melanie said) the article I linked to notes that there has been some preliminary work done in the US in this area, but -- obviously -- nothing has become law: "Rising to the occasion, the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California has released a list of guidelines for TV stations to use in improving TV political coverage. The Center also offers a Cronkite Award for those using "best practices" in their ads."

I haven't had a chance to do any more digging at this point, but this is something I'm going to be researching on an ongoing basis. I'll be adding resources to my blog as I gather more info.


That's a url for a document describing truth in political advertising legislation in Australia. It's an interesting, if dry, read. Their comparisons to the US and Canada are pretty scary.

I like this part: 'They did this by developing a model that penalises false and misleading statements of fact but is ameliorated by a defence of honest and reasonable mistake of fact. The model put forward by the Committee is designed to deter blatant examples of such conduct rather than to place a blanket ban on any speech likely to mislead or deceive voters in their electoral choices. Free speech in the electoral process is restricted only so far as is necessary to achieve this aim.'

Those crazy Aussies and their astounding levels of reasonableness. Leave it to them to get that right AND have proportional representation AND 95% voter turnout.

This is a very valid point. I'd also like to see a non-profit set up to run the debates. Maybe the same non-profit could do both functions - vetting the ads and running the debates.

Are there any other countries that have a truth in political advertising policy that is working or could be tweaked to work here?

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