The controversy over a political ad in the Mercury in support of the Palmer United Party in the Tasmanian election has again put the spotlight on responsibilities of publishers in regard to political advertising.
The ad, authorised by PUP senator-elect Jacquie Lambie, featured the images and names of Greens leader Nick McKim, Labor Premier Lara Giddings and Liberal leader Will Hodgman over the heading, “The three amigos”.
Under the Tasmanian Electoral Act, the permission of political candidates must be sought before their names can be published in advertising, once writs for an election have been issued. The ad was later amended, with the names and images deleted, for publication in subsequent editions.
The Liberal Party complained to the Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner that no permission had been sought for the use of Mr Hodgman’s name and image in the PUP ad in Monday’s Mercury. PUP founder Clive Palmer then complained Liberal Party ads in The Sunday Tasmanian and The Sunday Examiner had named PUP candidate, Kevin Morgan – but said he would take no action.
A second formal complaint was issued by the Labor Party over the use of Ms Giddings’ name without permission in letters sent to voters by Mr Palmer.
Tasmanian Electoral Commissioner Julian Type has confirmed he will investigate the complaints.
In response, Mr Palmer said he would be happy to go to jail if he was found guilty of any breaches of electoral legislation.
“I’m happy to be like Gandhi and fight for the freedom of Tasmanians because they’ve had enough,’’ he said. The maximum penalty for a breach is 12 months’ jail or a fine of $39,000.
Lianne Richards, Director, Advertising Regulation at The Newspaper Works, advises publishers to check advertisements from independent and fringe parties, in particular, for electoral act breaches.
“The smaller parties often lack the backroom expertise that the major parties have and there is always a potential risk for them to breach relevant legislation,” Ms Richards said.
“However, the publisher would have received this particular advertisement in their ordinary course of business and published the said advertisement in accordance with their normal business terms and conditions.”
Mercury chief executive Rex Gardner said the Tasmanian electoral commissioner should be allowed to complete his investigations, “free from what is fast-becoming a Palmer United Party sideshow clearly designed to attract free publicity.”
“What we can say is that neither the Mercury (nor News Corp Australia) has any agreement with the PUP to offer legal scrutiny of its political advertising.
“This is clearly their responsibility — and in fact the advertising terms and conditions PUP agreed to specifically state that the advertised warrants that the content complies with relevant laws and regulations.”