It was pretty clear that Tony Abbott didn't want to
talk about climate change at the G20. And after a bit of public
shaming on the topic, we can see why. (Standing up for coal?
It's no wonder climate change activists were keen to
advertise around Brisbane when the G20 leaders were arriving.
However, not all the owners of advertising space wanted to show
their ads. In particular, the Brisbane Airport refused to display
billboards with slogans about climate change because they were
Political advertising raises some interesting issues for
activists, publishers and the activists' targets. Here are the
top points to keep in mind, wherever you stand.
Activists can't force publishers to run their ads. But they
can make a news story about a refusal to publish. That's
exactly what the climate change activists did in Brisbane. They
claim that instead of 7000 people seeing a billboard at the
airport, over 4 million saw the news story instead. A win for the
activists. A bit of bad press for the airport for saying no to the
ads, but maybe the lesser of two evils from their perspective.
In many cases political activists are not legally accountable
for the accuracy of their claims. Normal rules around misleading
advertising only apply to conduct 'in trade or commerce',
which may exclude activist groups depending on the circumstances.
That said, accuracy is key to their credibility. If they get things
wrong, it's easy ammunition for their opponents. Odds are, the
opponent will find the error and run their own campaign to
highlight it. But if the opponent is a business, it will be bound
by the usual misleading advertising laws. Unfair? Maybe, but
that's what the law says.
Defamation is a risk for any advertising targeting individuals.
There are strong defences available for statements that are true or
relate to government and political issues. But that doesn't
create a carte blanche to bag out the pollies (no matter how much
they deserve it). The best approach is to be accurate, reasonable,
and not malicious.
There are extra rules for advertising about elections. If the
ad might affect voting at an election then it needs to comply with
those rules. The closer we are to an election, the more likely that
an ad could affect voting, so the more likely that it comprises
election advertising. The main rule is that election advertising
must include details of its authorisation.
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The issue of recording telephone calls was recently considered in the Federal Court in Furnari v Ziegert  FCA 1080.
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