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Animal Defenders International v. United Kingdom

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    April 22, 2013
  • Outcome
    Law or Action Upheld
  • Case Number
    48876/08
  • Region & Country
    United Kingdom, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)
  • Type of Law
    Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Licensing / Media Regulation
  • Tags
    Ban, Content-Based Restriction, Media Pluralism, Public Advertising

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

Bans on political speech may be upheld if the government can meet the requirement of proportionality when balanced with the necessity of the regulation as opposed to the freedom of speech rights threatened under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The government did not violate freedom of speech by banning political advertisements on television and radio because this did not ban all political speech – only advertisements, and there were other avenues available through which these political advertisements could still be expressed other than television and radio.


Facts

Animal Defenders International (“ADI”) originated this case against the United Kingdom under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This involved a proposed advertisement that ADI wished to air on television regarding the abuse of chimps in entertainment. The advertisement was submitted to the Broadcasting Advertising Clearance Centre which declined to approve the advertisement because it was primarily political in nature and therefore violated section 321(2) of the Communications Act. ADI appealed this decision arguing that the prohibition on political advertisements violated Section 4 of the Human Rights Act. The High Court dismissed ADI’s claim. This was then appealed to the House of Lords which again dismissed the claim. The case finally was brought before the European Court of Human Rights.


Decision Overview

The parties stipulated that the prohibition on political advertising interfered with their rights as a matter of law. Therefore, the issue for the Court was whether this interference was necessary in a democratic society. The Court utilized a balancing approach and looked at “the applicant NGO’s right to impart information and ideas of general interest which the public is entitled to receive with, on the other, the authorities’ desire to protect the democratic debate and process from distortion by powerful financial groups with advantageous access to influential media.” To accomplish this the Court looked at the necessity and proportionality of the Act in comparison to the threatened freedom of speech violations. The history of the Act showed that the parliamentary and judicial branches gave great thought to reviewing the constitutionality of the Act, this was not an all out ban on political speech (only advertising) and the forum was limited to television and radio. Therefore, the Court ruled there was no violation of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The concurring opinion resonated the majority’s analysis and added the historical ban that the United Kingdom has had on political and religious advertising. Further, the concurrence emphasized that the particular facts of each case are relevant for the balancing test of necessity and proportionality as applied to the individual applicant. Although the protections of freedom of speech are paramount this is not a general prohibition because it only bans one mode of political expression in one media outlet.

The dissent disagreed, stating that the case was analogous to VgT Verein gegen Tierfabriken v. Switzerland (no. 24699/94, ECHR 2001‑VI), cited repeatedly by the majority, which ruled a general prohibition on political advertising to be a violation of freedom of speech. The dissent stated that the facts of these cases were virtually identical and the court should not be applying different standards to different countries.


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

This case contracts expression because it allows a country to ban all political advertising on television or radio. Although not all political speech is banned and there are other avenues through which to advertise, this ban is still too broad. Television and radio are the main avenues through which political speech is expressed and a ban on all political advertising is unduly restrictive.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws


  • Section 19 entitled Statements of Compatibility


  • “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. …
    2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.”

  • ECtHR, Stoll v. Switzerland, App. No. 69698/98 (2007)

    Principles concerning the necessity of an interference with freedom of expression.

  • ECtHR, Centro Europa 7 S.R.L. and Di Stefano v. Italy, App. No. 38433/09 (2012)

    Principles concerning pluralism in the audiovisual media

  • ECtHR, Informationsverein Lentia and Others v. Austria, No. 13914/88 (1993)

    The state is the ultimate guarantor of pluralism.

  • ECtHR, Wingrove v. United Kingdom, App. No. 17419/90 (1996)

    “[T]here is little scope under Article 10 § 2 for restrictions on debates on questions of public interest.”

  • ECtHR, Handyside v. United Kingdom, App. No. 5493/72 (1976)

    “[F]reedom of the press and other news media affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of political leaders. It is incumbent on the press to impart information and ideas on subjects of public interest and the public also has a right to receive them.”

  • ECtHR, Schweizerische Radio- und Fernsehgesellschaft SRG v. Switzerland, No. 34124/06 (2012)

    “[T]he Court scrupulously examines the proportionality of a restriction of expression by the press in a television programme on a subject of general interest.”

  • ECtHR, Vides Aizsardzības Klubs v. Latvia, App. No. 57829/00 (2004)

    “[W]hen an NGO draws attention to matters of public interest, it is exercising a public watchdog role of similar importance to that of the press.”

  • ECtHR, Fressoz v. France, App. No. 29183/95 (1999)

    “[W]hether the reasons adduced to justify the prohibition were both ‘relevant’ and ‘sufficient’ and thus whether the interference corresponded to a ‘pressing social need and was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. In this respect, it is not the Court’s task to take the place of the national authorities but it must review, in the light of the case as a whole, those authorities’ decisions taken pursuant to their margin of appreciation.”

  • ECtHR, Ždanoka v. Latvia, No. 58278/00 (2006)

    “[A]dopt general measures which apply to pre-defined situations regardless of the individual facts of each case even if this might result in individual hard cases.”

  • ECtHR, Observer v. United Kingdom, App. No. 13585/88 (1991)

    “Contrary to the applicant’s submission, a general measure is to be distinguished from a prior restraint imposed on an individual act of expression.”

  • ECtHR, Bowman v. United Kingdom, App. No. 141/1996/760/961(1998)

    “[I]n which the Court accepted that a statutory control of the public debate was necessary given the risk posed to the right to free elections.”

  • ECtHR, Verein gegen Tierfabriken Schweiz (VgT) v. Switzerland, No. 32772/02 (2009)

    Almost identical case in which the court came to a different result than in the present case.

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

  • U.K., Communications Act of 2003

    Prohibits political advertising

General Law Notes

Case Name: Verein gegen Tierfabriken Schweiz (VgT) v. Switzerland (no. 2) [GC], no. 32772/02, 30 June 2009.
Notes: Almost identical case in which the court came to a different result than in the instant case.

Case Name: Stoll v. Switzerland [GC] (no. 69698/01, § 101, ECHR 2007‑V).
Notes: Principles concerning the necessity of an interference with freedom of expression.

Case Name: Centro Europa 7 S.R.L. and Di Stefano v. Italy ([GC], no. 38433/09, ECHR 2012).
Notes: Principles concerning pluralism in the audiovisual media.

Case Name: Informationsverein Lentia and Others v. Austria, 24 November 1993, § 38, Series A no. 276.
Notes: The state is the ultimate guarantor of pluralism.

Case Name: Wingrove v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 25 November 1996, Reports of Decisions and Judgments 1996-V, § 58.
Notes: “there is little scope under Article 10 § 2 for restrictions on debates on questions of public interest.”

Case Name: Handyside v. the United Kingdom, 7 December 1976, § 49, Series A no. 24.
Notes: “freedom of the press and other news media affords the public one of the best means of discovering and forming an opinion of the ideas and attitudes of political leaders. It is incumbent on the press to impart information and ideas on subjects of public interest and the public also has a right to receive them.”

Case Name: Schweizerische Radio- und Fernsehgesellschaft SRG v. Switzerland, no. 34124/06, § 56, 21 June 2012.
Notes: “the Court scrupulously examines the proportionality of a restriction of expression by the press in a television programme on a subject of general interest.”

Case Name: Vides Aizsardzības Klubs v. Latvia, no. 57829/00, § 42, 27 May 2004.
Notes: “when an NGO draws attention to matters of public interest, it is exercising a public watchdog role of similar importance to that of the press.”

Case Name: Fressoz and Roire v. France [GC], no. 29183/95, § 45, ECHR 1999-I.
Notes: “whether the reasons adduced to justify the prohibition were both “relevant” and “sufficient” and thus whether the interference corresponded to a “pressing social need” and was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued. In this respect, it is not the Court’s task to take the place of the national authorities but it must review, in the light of the case as a whole, those authorities’ decisions taken pursuant to their margin of appreciation.”

Case Name: Ždanoka v. Latvia [GC], no. 58278/00, §§ 112-115, ECHR 2006‑IV.
Notes: “adopt general measures which apply to pre-defined situations regardless of the individual facts of each case even if this might result in individual hard cases.”

Case Name: Observer and Guardian v. the United Kingdom, 26 November 1991, § 60, Series A no. 216.
Notes: “Contrary to the applicant’s submission, a general measure is to be distinguished from a prior restraint imposed on an individual act of expression.”

Case Name: Bowman v. the United Kingdom (19 February 1998, § 41, Reports 1998‑I)
Notes: “in which the Court accepted that a statutory control of the public debate was necessary given the risk posed to the right to free elections.”

Case Significance

Official Case Documents

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