Companies need to follow specific network guidelines when developing television advertising. One such guideline involves controversial public issues in advertising, also known as advocacy advertising.

According to their guidelines, networks will not sell time for advertising that presents a partisan position on a controversial public issue. This policy is not intended to apply to the sale of time to political candidates, to those authorised by candidates to buy time on their behalf or to political parties.

A 'controversial issue' is defined as a serious matter that has an impact on society or its institutions and on which different segments of the community have strongly opposing positions. This policy does not preclude mere references to a societal problem where there is consensus as to the existence of the problem. However, the policy would ordinarily preclude partisan discussion of answers or solutions to the problem, because typically they are a matter of debate or a difference of opinion.

An advertisement will be deemed unacceptable if it directly addresses a controversial issue of public importance and takes an explicit partisan position thereon, or if the advertisement presents information or makes statements that have the effect of paralleling (or advancing) the positions taken by partisans in the controversy.

The networks have strict policies regarding advertising controversial issues of public importance. Companies planning to create advertising that involves a controversial issue should ensure that their creative team complies with the network guidelines. When in doubt, it is better to seek advice, network editors will answer any questions that may arise.

Marilyn R Colaninno

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.