COMMERCIAL television networks could soon be forced to air political advertisements they had previously blacklisted.
The proposed change to the broadcasting laws, to be announced on Tuesday by independent Senator Nick Xenophon, could also make political ads a permanent feature of our airwaves. It would compel commercial and community stations to air every approved ad, from any group or individual, at any time.
Currently, broadcasters can refuse paid political ads outside election periods and from non-party organisations. The wording of the Broadcast Services Act 1992 implies they can also reject ads from independent politicians or parties that are not yet represented in Parliament.
Activist group GetUp has had four commercials banned by every TV network because they were critical of major sponsors such as Coles, Woolworths, Harvey Norman and the federal government. But the most recent ban backfired when disgruntled journalists from each station reported it - showing the ads in full during their news and current affairs programs.
''This is fundamentally an issue of free speech,'' Senator Xenophon said. ''If the major parties are as committed to free speech as they claim, they must support this bill.''
Senator Xenophon said the bill was especially important ''given we're in a pseudo-election campaign right now''. Networks are not required to air political ads until the writs are issued.
''This is not a progressive thing or a conservative thing,'' he said. ''This applies as much to GetUp as it does to the Institute of Public Affairs or Gina Rinehart.''