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Should all advertising in referendums be outlawed?

  • 15-05-2018 11:49am
    #1
    Registered Users Posts: 68,317 ✭✭✭✭


    I would like this to not specifically be about the current referendum, but a more general discussion about the state of referendum campaigning in general; especially the use of advertising in it.

    While in Ireland we cherish our referendums and the fact that the population has "control" over the constitution. Some other developed nations hold the plebiscite in contempt.

    And it's a valid viewpoint; history has shown us that when used as a populist tool and the narrative manipulated, populations can be misdirected into approving plebiscites that are contrary either to their best interests, or that will bring harm to a large minority of the population. And practically all of our referendums have had some level of dishonest and misleading campaigning one way or another.

    But I still have a lot of grá for the power of our referendum and the ultimate check it places on a government's power.

    So is there a happy medium here? The referendum process in Ireland has evolved quite well over time to avoid a scenario where one group is given more "official" time than another. This prevents one side of a debate from "winning" through sheer spending and having the right connections.

    However, it does nothing to prevent the narrative from being manipulated, and there are no checks in place to assert truth.

    So, should we be going one step further - banning all unchecked advertising on a referendum, be that online, or posters, or editorials in a magazine? Obviously there are limits on this. You can't stop people going door-to-door, you can't stop a preacher ranting on a pulpit, people have the right to free assembly (that is, public meetings), but these require more direct interaction than blanket broadcast advertising, and so are more open to challenge.

    If we were to assign a single body - i.e. refcom - the obligation to promote a referendum (as in, let people know it's happening), with a remit that requires absolute impartiality, and a duty to publish information and answer "whatif" queries on it, wouldn't that serve democracy best?


Comments

  • Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 12,521 Mod ✭✭✭✭Amirani


    seamus wrote: »
    So, should we be going one step further - banning all unchecked advertising on a referendum, be that online, or posters, or editorials in a magazine? Obviously there are limits on this. You can't stop people going door-to-door, you can't stop a preacher ranting on a pulpit, people have the right to free assembly (that is, public meetings), but these require more direct interaction than blanket broadcast advertising, and so are more open to challenge.

    I've been considering this idea through the campaign, but there are some hard to reconcile issues with the above.

    Online - I'm not quite sure how this can be policed and determined. Should people or groups of people be disallowed from publishing material on personal web pages or on personal social media accounts? I don't think this is feasible or desirable.

    Re advertising like Facebook and Google. This is probably more achievable, but I'm not sure how the legislation could prohibit this advertising exactly and what exactly the jurisdiction of the State would be on banning online advertising on websites hosted outside of the country?

    Editorials - I think this would genuinely be counter-productive and result in a less-informed electorate. Again, in general terms, fine perhaps for big media outlets, but are you going to ban people from self-publishing editorials through various media. This is dangerous and probably undesirable.

    Posters - I have no fondness for campaign posters in public spaces and would like to see them gone. They offer nothing constructive to public debate. However, I would not like to see a situation whereby they're banned in private space.

    On balance, I think that it probably isn't a workable proposal. It's impossible to police and I'm not sure whether it would improve the knowledge of the electorate. A stronger and more vocal referendum commission would be a good idea I think. We need categorical denunciation of fake facts and inconsistencies.


  • Registered Users Posts: 68,317 ✭✭✭✭seamus


    I guess I'm not suggesting anything that draconian. "Advertising" is fairly easily defined; so blogs or social media posts don't count, but any content where you've been paid to carry a message, does.

    The aim here wouldn't be to ensure 100% coverage; some things will always slip through the net. But as we've seen this time around, if you shut it down on Google then it goes away virtually everywhere. Any online company with a business presence in Ireland could be made to adhere to it, so that would cover 99.99% of online advertising.

    Editorials, perhaps not. I guess my aim was illustrate that even if you ban advertising, you can still have instances where a specific opinion is published at the behest of the CEO of the media company. This was demonstrated starkly at the start of the year where you had a mashup of 50+ US media companies all parroting the exact same agenda, masquerading as a journalist's "opinion".

    Perhaps a good first step is just putting refcom front and centre and giving them greater power to fact-check and respond. At least then people will know that there is a defined source of truth, and there's no quandry about "who to believe".


  • Registered Users Posts: 3,205 ✭✭✭cruizer101


    It really is a disgrace none of this was considered before the referendum, anyone could see it was going to be a very emotive campaign with high chances of lies and bad practice.
    It should be easy enough to ban the majority of ads, it's not like we in Ireland see ads for prescription drugs and cigarettes which you will see if in US.
    Re posters they should be banned for all referendum and elections.


  • Closed Accounts Posts: 7,480 ✭✭✭wexie


    seamus wrote: »

    Perhaps a good first step is just putting refcom front and centre and giving them greater power to fact-check and respond. At least then people will know that there is a defined source of truth, and there's no quandry about "who to believe".

    I think this would be good start and I'm not too sure it would need to go beyond here.

    Completely banning any form of advertising (is it really advertising? maybe campaigning is a better term?) would be a step to far I think. The very nature of a referendum pretty much guarantees there will be groups in society taking an interest in it and wanting to sway votes and I don't see a problem with that really.

    As long (and this for me is the biggest problem) as that is done in an educational and truthful manner. I find it astonishing there is no government body responsible for doing a bit of fact checking on the nonsense that is out there (at the moment and in the last referendum).

    As for the posters...personally I don't think they have a place in this century and they certainly shouldn't have a place on traffic posts and the like :mad:


  • Registered Users Posts: 277 ✭✭Nitrogan


    Ban the posters or make the campaigns liable for their clean-up cost.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 429 ✭✭denis160


    Agree posters should be banned for all elections & referendums, it’s nearly like a race to see who can fit the most posters on a pole or free space. Their never as quick to take them down as they are to put them up!


  • Registered Users Posts: 4,939 ✭✭✭goat2


    Yes all campaigning should be banned ,


  • Registered Users Posts: 5,833 ✭✭✭daheff


    I think all advertising should have to be passed by the referendum commission to confirm that information included is accurate and not lies.


  • Moderators, Entertainment Moderators, Politics Moderators Posts: 14,463 Mod ✭✭✭✭johnnyskeleton


    seamus wrote: »
    However, it does nothing to prevent the narrative from being manipulated, and there are no checks in place to assert truth.

    What is the truth and who decides it? Let's say that 5 surveys are done with results varying from 30% of people to 60% of people agree with proposition X. If one campaign says that 30% of people agree and the other says 60% agree, who is lying and who decides where the truth is?

    Or is it that unless someone can verify their assertions that they be allowed make it? In which case, honestly held but unverifiable views can be censored because they can't provide evidence to the satisfaction of the truth finders.

    In a way, it is a private vs state argument. Who is best placed to point out any lies. As matters stand, anyone who disagrees with a certain assertion is perfectly entitled to engage with it and to discredit it.

    The alternative is that we rely on the State to do some weeding out but that is only going to lead to challenges to the State body which makes a decision either way.
    If we were to assign a single body - i.e. refcom - the obligation to promote a referendum (as in, let people know it's happening), with a remit that requires absolute impartiality, and a duty to publish information and answer "whatif" queries on it, wouldn't that serve democracy best?

    Well maybe the only state money that is used should be used for the Referendum Commission's publications, rather than providing public funding in equal measure to the Yes and No campaigns. However, as we have already seen whenever they publish something people will always complain that they included X argument, didn't include Y argument, or have misrepresented Z argument.

    I'm not doubting that a system where there is absolute impartiality and all claims are 100% true and can be backed up would be great. I just don't think that it is in any way realistic or achievable, and attempting to regulate it will only create more claims that people are being denied their right to campaign.

    It's far better to respond to false or misleading information with truth rather than censorship.


  • Registered Users Posts: 81,495 ✭✭✭✭Overheal


    I can only tell you that the Citizens United decision has been an absolute disaster for democracy, and all but confirms the US is transitioning into a plutocracy.


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  • Registered Users Posts: 849 ✭✭✭petronius


    Not a fan of posters (especially they plastic ties the council tends to leave up) but how else can groups and smaller parties publicise their message - for bigger parties, its ok they have deep pockets and have other media channels at their disposal.
    The Referendum Commission by its very nature can not police or control, campaigning otherwise it would be liable to be charged with bias. And of course who nominates the Referendum the government, the establishment..


  • Moderators, Politics Moderators, Social & Fun Moderators Posts: 14,932 Mod ✭✭✭✭Quin_Dub


    I definitely think that there is a need for legislation around online information.

    As I understand it the ASAI are unable to take action on things like Viral posts/Memes etc. as they are not "advertisments" per se - But in today's world they carry as much if not more weight.

    If a company put up an Ad with misleading information , there is a mechanism for people to lodge and complaint and for that Ad to be removed and fines handed out etc.

    There needs to be a similar structure for Social Media - I fully accept that the speed of the medium means that the message is already out there but if Companies knew that sanctions would occur if they didn't remove this stuff promptly they'd implement processes to do it.


  • Registered Users Posts: 5,833 ✭✭✭daheff


    petronius wrote: »
    Not a fan of posters (especially they plastic ties the council tends to leave up) but how else can groups and smaller parties publicise their message -

    Internet...cheap and easy to put up a site. Pretty sure targeted advertising (Twitter/facebook) is cheap too


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