Political Advertising In the Media

What is political advertising? Simply put, it is any type of ad that aims to sway voters one way or another. It has many forms, the hottest of which right now is social media. Traditionally it has existed as TV ads, newspaper ads, or magazine ads. The new era of political advertising brings several unique challenges and issues.

The issue has been a hot button one worldwide. There have even been cases where countries have used political advertising to sway voters in other countries. The most notable is Russia buying political advertising worth $100,000 to influence an important election in 2016.

Truth and accuracy in political advertising

A political ad can be paid for by a political candidate themselves, a special interest group, or a political party. Oftentimes there are complaints about how accurate or true the advertising is, especially during election periods. When getting their point across, often the party behind the ad will use hyperbole, or make claims that cannot be verified. The fact that they are funded by parties that cannot be identified is also a concerning one.

The media often has no control over the accuracy of the ad’s content. Unless an ad flaunts broadcast rules, a radio station, newspaper, or website will not interfere. The viewers and readers, on the other hand, are the ones who usually complain of misleading advertisements.

Many developed countries have an ad standards body. The problem is, they usually have no say over political advertising. There’s often no law in place that says an ad’s content must be factually correct. In a sense, when it comes to these types of ads, anything goes. Currently though, there is a move in some places to scrutinize these ads and regulate them more effectively.

Regulation of political advertising

Regulation is a relatively new development in the field of political advertising. America is a prime example of what happens when regulation is attempted. The FEC started in January to put  new rules in place. The year 2018 is a midterm election year, which makes it a significant point in time.

However, this process has been long and fraught with political back and forth. The proposed Honest Ads Act has gone nowhere. It targets online advertising in particular. If the bill were to be successful, there would be more transparency. There would be a public record of ads that included the price that was paid for it, and who it targeted. It would also update the 50-year-old Federal Election Campaign Act to cover digital services.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the Alumni Exercises following the 366th Commencement Exercises at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., May 25, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The US is one of the most proactive countries working to regulate the industry right now. Yet it’s plain to see that they are still struggling. Soon, as voters become more knowledgeable, change may come. It will need the cooperation of traditional TV and radio companies as well as tech companies like Facebook. For legislation to pass, though, the same candidates and parties that benefit from an unregulated political advertising system will be the ones attempting to regulate themselves.