Are religious adverts on broadcast media “political”?

Political advertisements are banned under the terms of section 321 of the Communications Act 2003. In London Christian Radio & Anor, R (on the application of) v Radio Advertising Clearance Centre & Anor [2012] EWHC 1043 (Admin) (20 April 2012), two avowedly-Christian media organisations, London Christian Radio Ltd and Christian Communications Partnership Ltd, wanted to broadcast a radio advert alleging marginalisation of Christians in the workplace. Before they could do that they needed clearance from the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre – but the Centre decided that the advert breached the statutory ban on political advertising. That did not, of itself, prevent London Christian Radio from broadcasting the advertisement; but the absence of clearance laid it open to the possibility of a complaint to OFCOM of breach of the regulatory code.

London Christian Radio and Christian Communications Partnership challenged the RACC’s refusal. Their argument was that that what they proposed was not ‘political advertising’ and did not, therefore, attract the statutory ban – but that even if it did, the ban itself was incompatible with their rights under Article 10 ECHR (freedom of expression).

It was not disputed that the claimants’ rights under Article 10 were engaged; however, Silber J held that the ban on political advertising under the 2003 Act was “necessary in a democratic society” and within the margin of appreciation afforded to states parties (paras 49–50): R (Animal Defenders International) v Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport [2008] UKHL 14 followed. Moreover, the proposed advertisement was political in nature because it was

“… seeking to obtain information and it stated that such information would be used ‘to inform the public debate‘ and ‘to help make a fairer society‘. This information … would be used so as to try to make changes to society” (para 59).

The application was rejected.

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