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Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 01:11 GMT
Parties fail to agree adverts code
Labour 1997 election poster
ASA could not consider complaints on this Labour poster
The failure of political parties to agree a conduct code for election advertising has disappointed an industry watchdog.

New guidelines mean the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) will not now be able to rule on any complaints about any advertisements aimed at influencing voting.

It is expected that the main parties will spend most of their central funds for the upcoming election on advertising.

Political parties have previously not been bound by the same ethical rules as other advertisers on substantiation, truthfulness, testimonials, comparisons and denigration.

'Unfortunate'

But the ASA has been able to censure parties for breaking other rules.

It says it is "unfortunate" the parties had not yet agreed a code.

The Conservative's 'Demon Eyes'
Complaints were upheld against the 'Demon Eyes' poster
The Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended establishing guidelines for election adverts, as well as ways to enforce complaints.

An editorial in ASA's latest summary reports of investigations explained that since January last year, the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion had not applied to any advert whose "principal function is to influence voters in local, regional, national or international elections or referendums".

The ASA report said: "In previous editions of the code, election advertising has been exempt from some of the industry rules but not others."

'Demon eyes' poster

Under those rules, ASA upheld complaints before the 1997 General Election about the Conservative "Demon Eyes" advert because it pictured Tony Blair without his consent.

"But complaints about a Labour campaign, 'Same old Tories, same old lies' were judged to be outside the ASA's remit since political advertisers, unlike everyone else, were not obliged to prove their claims," says the report.

It adds: "The voters will decide for themselves what is 'decent, honest and truthful' while any election advertising that breaches the law will be a matter for the courts to judge."

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