Towards decent political advertisements – Blueprint Newspapers Limited

Following the recent green light given by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for start of campaigns for the 2023 general elections, our mass media – radio, television, newspapers, etc., — will soon be inundated with political advertisements. And the question is, shall the parties, candidates and supporters conduct a decent advertisement campaign or shall it be characterised by what we see in the social media (a no holds barred platform) where mockery, ridicule and even bare-faced hatred are the defining features? With cutting edge technology it is relatively easy in this digital era to manipulate, distort and misrepresent an image to achieve a certain objective.
Admittedly, the stakes are seemingly high for especially the two main political parties, namely, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party(PDP); not least for their presidential candidates, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Wazirin Atiku Abubakar for whom 2023 is apparently the last chance to clinch the coveted prize of Nigeria’s number one citizen. Much as the elections present a fierce battle, it is by no means  a do or die battle as it is now generally considered in some quarters. 
Rather, it should be viewed as a healthy competition in which the goal is the progress and general well being of the populace and where at end of it all, individual interests are subjugated to national interest; whereby opponents are viewed not as enemies, the eventual winner seen rather as a fellow Nigerian that should be lovingly supported in every way possible  in the great task of up-building that awaits him. Therein lies patriotism, service to your fellow men and if I may humbly add, to the Lord. 
An important step towards this ideal position is in the conduct of political campaigns by the actors, a key aspect of which is advertisements. Flipping through the social media, you would be forgiven to conclude that there are no regulations guiding advertisements in general in Nigeria. It turns out however, that there are quite a number of regulators which statutory function impinge in one way or other on political advertisements being put out for public consumption to ensure that they meet minimum standard of decency. Chief among these is the erstwhile Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON). Its director in charge of northern region, Mr. Ralph Anyacho, says the organisation’s hands have been strengthened with a recent law that simultaneously changed its name to conform with its new powers. It is now Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON). 
The new ARCON came into effect in August of this year. Anyacho insinuated that it is now ready to not only bark but also bite, adding that its new director general, Dr. Olalekan Fadolapo is all set to match words with action. A pointer to this is the legal action it has instituted against Meta (owners of facebook) for the various advertisements it is carrying on its platform without first sending them to the relevant authority (ARCON) for necessary approval. It has also frowned at use of foreign models and foreign production of advertisements meant for the Nigerian audience, outlining penalty fees for infringements.
 In recent times ARCON has been holding interactive sessions with stakeholders on the theme, ‘Managing political advertising campaign’. According to Mr. Anyacho, because of the inclinations of political actors to  use advertising for negative ends by straying off to non issue based campaign messages such as personality attacks, ethnic innuendos, etc. ARCON has rolled out a set of regulations to control negative advertisement as such adverts if allowed could destabilize the country. 
Consequently, all advertisements are required to be truthful, honest, decent, legal and socially responsible. The latter is defined as being respectful and mindful of Nigeria’s culture, avoiding misinformation and disinformation. In truth there are a number of organisations that have some statutory authority  on political advertising and whose requirements stakeholders should acquaint themselves with, that is politicians, advertising agencies and the media majorly. They are ARCON Act 23 of 2022, the Nigerian Code of Advertising Practice, Nigeria’s ground norm, that is, the 1999 constitution (as amended); the Electoral Act 2022; INEC’s (2014) guidelines for political rallies and campaigns by political parties, candidates, aspirants and their supporters; Nigeria Broadcasting Commission (NBC) Act of 2004; NBC Code 2020 and the Nigeria Press Organisation (NPO) Code of Ethics. 
 The Code of Advertising Practice on political advertisements stipulate in its Article 76, that, ‘’advertisements for political activities, political advertisement, advertising and marketing communication shall be issue oriented and devoid of abusive statement or reference. It shall not employ false, distorted or unsubstantiated claim or contain misrepresentation’’. 
Article 77 says, ‘’Every political  advertisement, advertising and marketing communication shall clearly identify sponsoring organization or individual, verifiable contact details including: names, physical address, telephone numbers, etc., shall be submitted. In Article 78 it  states that ‘’Political advertisement, advertising and marketing communication shall not explicitly or implicitly  adversely exploit matters relating to ethnicity, religion or any other sectional interest’’. In addition to complying with the Advertising Code of Practice, all concerned parties are also mandated to comply with the Nigerian Broadcasting Code, the NPO Code of and the Electoral laws ‘’in all matters relating to political advertising’’. 
Furthermore, the regulation for political advertisement require that it must not contain ‘’any description, claim or illustration which can convey erroneous or misleading impression about the person or service advertised or about the suitability of the idea or agenda recommended. Any description, claim or illustration made in any political advertisement shall be subject to empirical proof or capable of substantiation if demanded. Evidence shall be required in respect of superlative or comparative claims. Testimonials or endorsements made in any political advertisement shall be subject to proof’’
More importantly, all advertisements according to ARCON must be approved by the Advertising Standard Panel (ASP) and a certificate issued to that effect after vetting. To wit, it is stipulated that copies of the certificate must be attached to all media orders. In effect, ‘’no political advertisement should be exposed or published unless a certificate of approval has been received by the applicant or media house’’.  There are minimum stipulated penalties for any media house, advertiser, advertising practitioner and advertising agency that publishes, aid, abet, authorise, causes or places for publication a political advertisement without an ASP certificate. Aforementioned requirements rolled out by the transformed Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON), supported by its new 2022 Act/law are sufficient to make us have a clean, decent political advertisements and campaigns if they can be followed through to the letter and enforced accordingly.
Ikeano, a journalist, writes from Lafia, Nasarawa state, via [email protected] 08033077519

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