28 Nov 2008.
For immediate release.

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Press Release

Manchester Road Pricing Ad - Political, Biased, Banned - Official!
Manchester Authorities Using Taxpayers' Money for Propaganda
Today, TV watchdog Ofcom upheld complaints against an advertisement run on Granada TV by Greater Manchester Future Transport (GMFT) — a group funded by the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) and the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority (GMPTA).
The advertisement, which purported to encourage the public to vote in the ongoing referendum over the introduction of a huge congestion charge zone tied to investment in public transport, was found by Ofcom to breach the Communications Act 2003 as well as two clauses of the TV advertising code dealing with political influence and bias.
"AGMA have been caught using public money to indulge in sheer propaganda, and presenting this as information rather than opinion," said ABD spokesman Nigel Humphries. "Secton 4 of the TV Code and Section 321 of the Comms Act are specifically there to prevent well funded organisations from using the power of TV advertising to distort political debates and influence the course of polls, referenda and elections."
Ofcom ruled that the GMFT ad, which presented itself as a public information film encouraging people to vote in the referendum on the congestion charge package, violated the code on two counts:
1 Because it openly directed viewers towards a website (www.gmfuturetransport.co.uk) which predominantly contained information supporting a "yes" vote, the ad was deemed to be "directed towards a political end" and to be seeking to influence the outcome of a referendum.
2. The balance of time allotted to the "yes" and "no" campaigns, plus the language and context in which they were mentioned, showed partiality towards the "yes" campaign by presenting it in a positive light, contrasting with the negative portrayal of a "no" vote.
"AGMA may be dancing, but it's the Government that is pulling the strings on this issue, so its really a ruling against the whole establishment," continued Humphries. "They want road pricing but they know people are against it. So they try and lever it into Manchester first by packaging it with investment (a bribe). Little wonder they are prepared to use every propaganda technique in the book when faced with a referendum they fear they will lose."
The returning officer must put in place a procedure to allow those who wish to change their vote in the light of the OFCOM ruling. Voters must be able to trust their elected representatives and that basis of trust no longer exists. The actions all those involved in this shameful episode is inexcusable.

Full Ofcom ruling [pdf]

Notes for Editors about the ABD