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Guest Editorial : Truth in advertising laws do not apply to political ads

Between now and November 4, the proliferation of political advertising will dominate the media. In its intent to sway votes, every visual image and printed and spoken word is designed to evoke emotion in those exposed to it.

Beware to the reader who believes everything in these ads, for all is not what it seems.

Government regulation of truth in advertising has prevailed in America for decades. The Federal Trade Commission provides rules for manufacturers, business owners and advertising agencies that clearly define the difference between stating the “truth” in advertising and ads that contain “lies.”

In advertising for new cars, or a loaf of bread, Americans are protected from false advertising claims. So it would seem all advertising is protected. But it is not. This protection excludes political advertising and the resulting giant wave of ads prior to an election is awash with half-truths and lies.

According to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, “…there’s no such truth-in-advertising law governing federal candidates. They can legally lie about almost anything they want.”

All of this falls under the protection of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,” so the Federal Trade Commission steps back.

Attempts to legislate around the gap in truthfulness, but attempts failed miserably.

What do you do? First, prepare to vote intelligently by reading the pros and cons written about the propositions in the official Voter Information Guide sent by the California Secretary of State Election Division. Second, perform independent fact-checking on new candidates, and third, examine the voting records of incumbents seeking reelection or a new office to understand their positions on issues.

Since no regulating group protects voters from politicians, it’s up to voters to decide for themselves who is telling the truth and who is not.


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