I write not through political discontent, a disheartening towards our democratic process or through any ill wishes towards Brexit or Remain voters. I write in complaint of the propaganda and battle cries from which all parties fought their corner. In particular, I write to lobby your organisations so that future political campaigns may fall subject to the CAP Code.
I understand the complexities involved here. If the ASA is enforcing the code on political parties or movements, there’s the possibility of it investigating alleged false claims after those falsehoods have helped a government into power – leaving the ASA in the position of potentially ruling against the government, and alleging some serious criminality.
Currently, as CAP explains:
“Claims in marketing communications, whenever published or distributed, whose principal function is to influence voters in a local, regional, national or international election or referendum are exempt from the Code.”
Whilst the EC acknowledges:
“In general, political campaign material in the UK is not regulated, and it is a matter for voters to decide on the basis of such material whether they consider it accurate or not.”
Unfortunately, the campaigning around the recent EU referendum has shown beyond doubt that this status quo must change. The solution may be to create an independent office outside of the ASA to monitor political campaign materials and messages, but what’s clear is that your organisations must discuss and respond with action.
In the below, I cite multiple references to misleading claims and false facts. I draw particular attention to these specifics (there are many more, but these are the most verifiably false), and urge you as an organisation to embark on a full independent investigation surrounding their origin, their usage to sway opinion and their particular impact on the final outcome.
As part of this official complaint I would like to suggest any culprits are punished to a level consistent with any organisation in similar breach of the CAP code or any ASA guidelines. Private businesses in the highly regulated tobacco, pharmaceutical, health and beauty, gambling and drinks industries could expect high penalties for the use of falsehoods such as these in their advertising.
I also urge you to publish a report clarifying why political campaigns appear to be immune to such basic advertising standards, and why the ASA does not serve in the public’s interest during political campaigns.
My specific complaints reside in the following four claims, which were used as key “sales” messages during the campaign period. The first three are simply factually incorrect, and the fourth is so hard to credibly predict, that it surely can be no more than a speculation.
1. The EU costs £350m per week, nearly £20bn per year.
2. The UK consistently loses in the EU because other members favour a highly regulated and protectionist economy.
3. Two thirds of British jobs in manufacturing are dependant on demand from Europe.
4. Brexit will make us worse off to the tune of £4300 per household by 2030.
I look forward to your response.