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.