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Is my campaign within the law?

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When running a campaign, your communications will need to comply with the relevant laws. The main regulations you need to be aware of are covered here.

Your campaign will also need to comply with other relevant laws. These include: 

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

The ASA is the UK’s independent regulator for both broadcast and non-broadcast adverts, sales promotions and direct marketing.

The ASA administers:

  • the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising
  • Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (The CAP Code)
  • the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (The BCAP Code).

All these codes set out what is allowed in advertising and broadcast media. The codes cover all marketing publications to the public, not just paid-for advertising. Any marketing material your organization publishes could be referred to the ASA by a member of the public if they feel that you have breached the overall requirements to be ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’.

There are similar rules for broadcast and non-broadcast media. Organisations also have to take account of the Communications Act 2003. From 2011, the ASA’s remit was extended to include online marketing communications on organisations own websites as well as non paid for space under an organisation’s control – such as social networking sites.

In summary:

  • you need to ensure that any claims you make can be substantiated
  • you also need to ensure that you do not unnecessarily cause distress.

If a complaint is made the organisation will be investigated by the body concerned. If your organisation is found to have breached the guidelines the judgement will appear on the ASA website and you will probably be told to withdraw the offending claim and any material that reproduces it.

If you are unsure about any advert or item of material you can check with the ASA beforehand.

Defamation law

The civil law of defamation includes both slander and libel. ‘Slander’ refers to the defamation by the spoken word and ‘libel’ to written defamation. You need to ensure that any statements are factually based or honestly derived and that there is no malicious intent. You should not personalise a campaign around attacks on one individual. Making a compelling case using all communication methods is essential to effective campaigning; it raises no particular risks as long as the material is based on sound evidence.

The Communications Act

The Communications Act 2003 prohibits the use of paid ‘political’ advertising in the broadcast media. The ban does not affect internet, cinema, SMS, telephone billboard or newspaper advertising, all of which are covered by the ASA rules. The legislation defines ‘political’ as seeking a change to the law, government decisions or policy. It prohibits any advertisement from any organisation or individual to achieve those ends. It also prohibits any attempt to influence public opinion on a controversial public issue. 

The most famous example of an advertising ban following political campaigning was the Make Poverty History one-click advert in 2005, which highlighted that a child dies every three seconds because of preventable poverty. In fact, the media ban ended up generating significant coverage.

CC9

If you are a registered charity you will need to follow the Charity Commission’s guidelines on campaigning. This is known as CC9 – Charity Commission Regulation Number 9.

Some of the main elements within CC9 cover:

  • charities and political activities
  • campaigning during an election period (separate guidance available from the Charity Commission website)
  • balance of activities.

Political activity and staying neutral

Political activity is when a charity tries to influence how the law affects people, amend a law, or stop a law from being scrapped. It is allowed if it benefits the people that the charity has said they are trying to help in their governing document. For example, if your organisation works with victims of domestic violence, you can campaign for more government funding for women’s shelters. However, campaigning on animal rights would not be acceptable.

Charities cannot support a political party directly – they have to remain politically neutral. The public values charities' independence, and it is important that charities are not perceived to be supporting one party over another. A charity may support specific policies advocated by political parties if they would help achieve its charitable objectives. But trustees must not allow the charity to be used as a vehicle to express personal or party political views.

This applies to all communication, including social media. For example, a charity that works with refugees could tweet their support for a government commitment to accept more refugee children. But it would not be appropriate to tweet support for a particular political party in general. 

More information on working with political parties can be found on the Charity Commission website

To help you understand further how CC9 guidelines can affect your campaigning, see our page of example scenarios.

Further information

More information on campaigning and the law can be found in the following resources.

Page last edited May 12, 2017

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