02 Aug 2021

The Commissioner for Standards in Public Life has issued guidelines to regulate the use of advertising and promotional material by the government and public entities.

These guidelines do not represent new rules. They indicate how the Commissioner will apply the existing code of ethics for ministers in cases that involve publicly-funded advertisements or promotional material.

The guidelines acknowledge that the government has a duty to communicate with the public, and it has broad discretion to decide when to use advertisements or promotional material for legitimate purposes. However, ministers should not spend public funds on personal or political publicity. The guidelines are intended to ensure that this does not happen.

The guidelines cover not only advertisements but also, among other things, articles published against payment, leaflets, greeting cards, items distributed as gifts, and audiovisual material that is broadcast on television or social media – always if such material is paid for through public funds.

Among other things, the guidelines state that:

  • Advertisements and promotional material produced by the government or public entities should not include partisan content.
  • Statements in advertisements and promotional material produced by the government or public entities should be factually correct.
  • Advertisements by the government or public entities should not include the names or photographs of ministers. This also applies to advertorials.
  • Leaflets or other documents (other than advertisements and advertorials) issued by the government or public entities may include content that refers to ministers, as long as such content is strictly limited and contributes to the legitimate purposes of the document.
  • Government-sponsored publications should indicate that they are so sponsored for the sake of transparency.
  • Ministers should direct public funds to the media for advertising purposes according to fair and objective criteria.

The guidelines specify that they do not cover any situation that might arise, and matters not covered by the guidelines will continue to be governed by the ministerial code of ethics.

On 22 June 2021 the Commissioner issued the guidelines in draft form for consultation purposes. Political parties, the government and the general public were given one month within which to present their views before the Commissioner brought the guidelines into effect and began applying them. However, the Commissioner did not receive any feedback from political parties or the government.

The guidelines have been amended in the light of the feedback received by the Commissioner. In particular, the guidelines now refer to persons of trust as well as ministers, given that persons of trust also fall under the Commissioner’s jurisdiction. Persons of trust act on behalf of ministers and can therefore take decisions on the production of government advertising and promotional material. Should the Commissioner investigate such a case, he will interpret the code of ethics governing persons of trust in the light of the guidelines.

The guidelines can be downloaded from here.