Answering my own questions since 2001

Blogs are Advertising in BC?

Yesterday, a decision came down from Elections BC that blogs are a form of campaign advertising, and therefore must be registered as such:

“Under the Election Act, it will fall within the definition of election advertising, and we would ask them to register,” says Jennifer Miller, of Elections B.C.

Miller says the volume of sites is overwhelming, and doesn’t rule out asking for a change to the Election Act. “If we feel certain parts of the act can be amended to make it more effective and efficient, we will definitely make that recommendation,” she says.

I called up Elections BC this morning, to clarify their position:

  • Yes, blogs must be registered as election advertising.
  • If I put up a single web page with text expressing support for a candidate, party or referendum issue, it must be registered.
  • Newspapers, including editorials and letters to the editor, get an exemption. Actually, the exact words used were “bona fide news organizations”. I should have asked what qualifies as a bona fide news organization, but didn’t (I’ve sent a follow-up email).
  • Is it the medium or the content? I was told that it was definitely the latter. Because, after all, newspapers appear online as well.

To register, you have to complete an application for registration (PDF), which gets you added to this list. Then, within 90 days after the election, you have to file an advertising disclosure report (PDF).

Without examining the principal behind registering in the first place, Elections BC is in a difficult spot. Where does editorial become advertorial? Personally, I think the “bona fide media organization” exclusion ought to be extended to the editorial content in blogs. If I’ve got a big, flashing sign on my blog supporting the Marijuana Party, then whoever is paying for that advertisement (or me, if I’m expressing my support) should register. But then, that becomes a slippery slope, doesn’t it? What if I put together a groovy, educational flash movie (say, like this one) espousing a position? Is that editorial content or advertising?

In order to answer these questions, we need to get to the heart of “why do we require advertisers to register?” I’ve looked for the answer to that question in the Election Act or the Elections BC website, but come up empty.

Does requiring this registration stifle political debate? Yes. After all, if word gets out that you need to register to blog about the election, bloggers are less likely to become engaged with the debate.

21 Responses to “Blogs are Advertising in BC?”

  1. Todd

    Wow. This is quite a bit of news. I guess bloggers have been wanting to have the cake and eat it, too, by way of wanting to be recognized as a legitimate voice but not subject to the same constraints as we place on larger outlets. Maybe the time is coming to draw a line between personal and non-personal blogs..? I don’t know how that would work at all.

    My understanding of why advertisors must register is to track the spending that parties do on advert’s, and that in turn helps ensure that they keep within spending limits. The limits are in place to keep the playing field economically level (more or less) and to prevent big money parties from monopolizing a campaign. Maybe Elections BC is afraid of bloggers being quietly paid as a loophole to the spending rules, and want to plug it sooner than later.

    Overall, though, I think the Elections BC decision will stifle debate. Registration takes a lot of the free-wheeling fun out of blogging, and suggests that bloggers are being identified, tracked, and so on. In short, I think it will make people nervous, especially if they hold unconventional views. This will be a really interesting one to watch. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Andrea

    How do they value advertising via a blog? Is my hosting considered a donation? What about RSS feeds on other sites? Can I get a tax receipt? If blogs are considered a donation, could groups of bloggers get together and spam-blog about a party they don’t like, using up huge chunks of the advertising allowed for that candidate? Yikes.

  3. Darren Harkness

    My question would be if the Opinion columnists in, say, the Vancouver Sun have to register as advertising sponsors. If so, then fine – bloggers really have reached ‘journalist’ status in BC.

    If not, then why is this medium being singled out?

  4. Melanie

    I think The whole thing is ridiculous. How do we know that certian newspapers, radio stations and tv stations are not moderating their voices in order to conform to that exposued by a particular political party. Doing this would make it advertising.
    What if I were in a restaurant with a group of frinds exposing my strong views about a political party, is that advertising? If I spoke louder the whole restaurant would hear me.
    I suppose I’m being rather silly. I think the whole thing boils down to the fact that blogs can potentially be read by thousands of people world wide and may be the prefered reading medium for some. This fact is getting those “bona fide” media outlets nervous as they watch their market share crumble into dust and worry about their eventual demise.

  5. James

    If I blog for multiple parties can I get multiple tax receipts? What if I don’t register with Elections BC? Do they impose a registration or quota penalty for my views?

    Also, I agree with Melanie that blogs just provide a static (text) form for commentary, so they *can* be regulated. Not that they should be regulated.

    More basically, does every fixed opinion expressed on politics in BC (not covered by the journalism exemption) have to be considered a transaction? That sort of privatizes political expression, meaning it’s part and parcel of a transaction. Can’t we just blog about politics because it’s on our mind and topical, in a disinterested way?

  6. Melanie

    As I said above,

    “How do we know that certian newspapers, radio stations and tv stations are not moderating their voices in order to conform to that exposued by a particular political party. Doing this would make it advertising.”

    here is a link to one media outlet, Bourque Newswatch, which seems to be doing just that.

  7. Melanie

    hmmnn I thing the above media outlet is a blog it is not bona fide at all. I should have checked it first.

  8. James Cogan

    Melanie, you bring up an interesting point re: Bourque. He has for some time had Liberal banners on his site (as he does now), he’s a staple visit by newsroom refreshers across Canada, so are his headlines/content considered advertising? The banner is, obviously. But does that make the entire site an advertorial, as much of his angles on stories lean and at times fall completely in the pro-Liberal camp. Under the guise of Elections BC rules, quite possibly.

    On one of our sites PrimeMinister.ca we accept no direct advertising money from political parties, nor will we ever do so. Occasionally, political party ads may pop up in Google AdSense ads, but we have no control over that. But our content is all over the map on partisan issues. Our political line, if any, is ‘no sacred cows’. I can’t understand how any of it would be considered ‘advertising’, but I’m left wondering if Elections BC would agree.

  9. donna

    I expressed my support for the NDP recently, and urged people to vote yes for STV. With how my site is setup, this means that I have one or two individual pages dedicated to my political views.

    I’ll be damned if I’m registering as an advertiser. That’s so patently ridiculous it hurts. Sue me.

    Hmm, I wonder — people who put political signs on their lawns, should they have to register? Figure out how much of their rent/mortgage goes towards that little spot of grass, and send that figure in? How, precisely, is some babbling on my website about who I’m supporting in the next election any different — aside from being a little more verbose — than a lawn sign?

    Fuckers. Talk about not “getting” blogs. Sheesh.

  10. Todd

    If you want evidence of bias in a ‘bona fide’ media source, look no further than CanWest. And don’t take my word for it – a reporter for a Seattle paper found enough evident bias to make a story of it. And you know how interested Americans are in Canada, so it must have been enough to be noteworthy to a major Seattle paper. http://thetyee.ca/pundit/?p=177
    (found via The Tyee)

  11. Charlie Barker

    They are messing with things they don’t understand. To write a blog requires individual effort, to become a popular blogger requires a lot more effort and a fair degree of talent. Regulating blogging in this way is wholly unacceptable.

    What would be the punishment for bloggers that fail to comply?

  12. Rog

    If I ever write any political content on my blog, I plan on completely ignoring this absurd little registration rule and fight for my rights as a private citizen not affiliated with any party. In this regard, Elections BC can sit on my index finger and spin.

  13. udge

    if word gets out that you need to register to blog about the election, bloggers are less likely to become engaged with the debate

    Surely that is the point of the exercise?

    And FWIW I’m with Rog: we used to call this “free speech”.

  14. Ed Doerksen

    This is just another avenue to take control of people and their thoughts. Blogging has become a threat to the status-que politician and political party.

    Governments demand control of the people. Freedom of speach and thought is a danger to them and bloggin is an uncontrolable medium.

    Revolt! Screw them! I wouldn’t register, for being registered is registering your thoughts and your expressions which violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which has become limited in its own design.

  15. Ross

    Man, that is crazy. Total Thought Police. In order to express yourself politically, you have register and get permission from the government to express your views? I agree with Mr. Doerksen there – fight the system! That is terrible.

  16. Ross

    And also. A blog is just basically a place to post your thoughts. It’s an electronic soap box. Will people speaking their minds in public or with friends also be required to register?

  17. krishen

    The problem here is that bloggers view their blogs as personal soapboxes, whereas Elections BC views them as billboards. And I guess they’re a little of both. It’s a pretty fine line.

    Election BC’s defintion of advertising is pretty much useless, as far as helping sort this out:

    “‘election advertising’ means advertising used during a campaign period”.

    Yeah, okay. Great.

  18. Julian

    Stupid old-media power structure: 1
    Intelligent new-media visionaries: 0

    All the more reason to elect candidates who understand technology…so we can get idiotic decisions like this fixed, for good.

    The scientific community has long bemoaned the fact that we have politicians (and many bureaucrats) making decisions about things like Kyoto and nuclear power who barely have a grade school understanding of science. The same is true of technology issues — except that when it comes to the internet, which we all personally use, their decisions affect us directly!

    I think in the federal election I’m going to vote according to new criteria: When the candidate knocks on my door, I’m going to give them a spot quiz on the meaning of technology names, jargon and buzzwords. I’ll vote for whomever gives the most accurate responses. If others are interested, please add to this list of possible terms that deserve to be on the quiz:

    TCP/IP
    HTML
    relational database
    128-bit encryption
    peer-to-peer networking
    client-server networking
    Linux
    VPN
    VOIP
    NNTP
    CAD
    Algorithm
    DNS
    Verisign
    ICANN
    CIRA
    CERN

    If any candidate could actually give me a reasonable definition for all of those terms on the spot, maybe I should just vote for them, parties be damned. There’s not a lot of thought in the choice of terms, though it’s “internet-biased”, but honestly, any candidate the knows them all would obviously be a geek!

    Do you think we need a geek-test for candidates? I hate to seem like a “one-issue voter” but I think the time will come where we can’t keep letting “bread and butter issues” trump fundamental technology issues that will make or break the future of this country. Short term pain for long term gain?

    –Julian

    Post-script: Stewart Brand, founder of the Well, has been quoted thus: “Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn’t change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.”

    source: http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/3rd_continue.html

    It’s a broken link, but still available through the good ‘ol Internet archive: http://web.archive.org/web/19990502015017/www.edge.org/3rd_culture/3rd_continue.html

  19. melanie from 23/5

    It’s funny, this came down quite a while ago, but i didn’t find out about it until about a month ago. I found it in complete contradiction to the Canada Election Act and blogged at length about it. Had a flury of emails going around but no one wanted to partake in a serious challenge/resistance. I tried my best and published all of my letters to and from Elections BC on my blog.

    David Schreck started going through all of this back in 2001 and went through it all over again this time. He has some really interesting letters on his blog at strategic thoughts.

    And Declan, who has a yes stv blog, caved in and registered, but not without his own interesting battle with E-BC.

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