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Communications Act 2003

Section 321: Objectives for advertisements and sponsorship

678.This section specifies standards objectiveswhich must include general provisions about the required standards in advertising and sponsorship and permits OFCOM to prohibit advertisements and methods of advertising and sponsorship.

679.Subsection (2) imposes on OFCOM a duty to secure in the broadcast media a general prohibition on political advertising and advertising related to industrial disputes. This reproduces the duty imposed under the Broadcasting Act 1990 on the ITC and the Radio Authority to secure a similar prohibition. Subsection (7) specifies that an advertisement of a public service nature which is inserted by or on behalf of a government department, and a party political or referendum campaign broadcast required by a condition imposed under section 333 or by paragraph 18 of Schedule 12, may nonetheless be broadcast. The Act sets out in subsection (3) the matters which are included in the reference in subsection (2) to “objects of a political nature” and “political ends”, so as to make clear the scope of the prohibition. These include each of the following: influencing the outcome of elections or referendums in the UK or elsewhere; bringing about changes in the law or otherwise influencing the legislative process in the UK or elsewhere; influencing the policies or decisions of local, regional or national governments in the UK or elsewhere; influencing the policies or decisions of persons on whom public functions are conferred by or under the law of the UK or of a country or territory outside the UK; influencing the policy or decisions of persons on whom functions are conferred by or under international agreements; influencing public opinion on a matter which in the UK is a matter of public controversy; and promoting the interests of a party or other group of persons organised in the UK or elsewhere for political ends.

680.It is because of the ban that this section (in conjunction with section 319(2)(g)) would impose on political advertising that, in the light of the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Vgt Verein gegen Tierfabriken v Switzerland, the Minister in charge of the Bill was unable to make a statement of compatibility under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998. The fact that the Minister made a statement under section 19(1)(b) of that Act does not, however, mean that the Government believes the ban would necessarily be found to be incompatible if the ban were to be challenged in the United Kingdom courts or to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights.

681.More generally, subsections (5) and (6) provide for consultation by OFCOM with the Secretary of State regarding the descriptions of advertisements that should not be included in programme services; and the forms and methods of advertising and sponsorship that should not be used. In addition, the Secretary of State has a power to issue directions (with which OFCOM must comply) on any of those matters.

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