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Ethics In Political Advertising Essay, Research Paper

In recent years, more and more attention has been brought to the subject of advertising and how it effects its viewers. Many people believe that there is too much sex and violence in advertisements and they want to put a stop to it. These people believe that sex really doesn t sell and it shouldn t be allowed to be put into the media. On the other hand, there are people that are firm believers in the idea that sex and violence sell. These people have a strong idea that the public wants to see this kind of thing, and it aids heavily in the promotion of the product. Also included in this, is political advertising. Candidates have used advertising for many different reasons. It has been used to create and develop their images, explain their platforms, and communicate various types of messages to the public (Kates 1871). Advertising on television is a very useful tool for candidates across the nation. It provides the general public with the knowledge of who the candidate is, and where he or she stands on the issues. However, it can also be used to slander ones opponent. When election time rolls around, you can be sure to see television commercials that say something bad about a candidate, and something good about his or her opponent (who has paid for the commercial). Political advertising is believed to work under certain conditions for certain types of voters and for certain types of purposes such as image development, agenda setting, or attacking opponents (Kates 1871).

There are certain ethics that can be applied to this situation. Many questions that can be asked are: does political advertising encourage or discourage voters from participating, thus harming the democratic process? Do politicians exaggerate claims or stretch the truth, creating a negative impression of the political system? Can negative advertising create a cynical environment in which voters are discouraged from voting (Kates 1871-1872)? These are all major questions that a candidate has to deal with before he or she can decide what kind of campaign they are going to run. A candidate cannot simply run a scandalous campaign against their opponent, because that will make the other candidate do the same and that might turn the voters off from voting completely. Candidates have to be very careful about what they decide to advertise, because the slightest thing done wrong could get them into trouble. For example, in the 1998 election, a republican representative named Don Young used the presidential seal in a campaign ad (Trigoboff 11). The seal was used because former President George Bush was in the ad endorsing Mr. Young (11). This seems to violate federal law, and the White House attorneys have become involved (11).

Also, many governments around the world such as the Untied States, Great Britain, and Canada have tried to place governmental restrictions on political advertising during elections (Kates 1872). Unfortunately, most of the bills are shot down because of the right to free expression (1872).

From an ethical standpoint, there are two different approaches to looking at political advertising. These are called the traditional and postmodern views (Kates 1873). The traditional approach, stresses open debate, choice, rationality and democratic process (1873). The postmodern approach is much different than this. This approach would, challenge the notion that voters are in any position to evaluate the veracity of the claims, offer resistance to persuasion, or meaningfully participate in the political system (1873). The traditional approach seeks the truth in political communications, whereas, the postmodern looks at freedom and choice in the advertisement, whether they are valid, and if they are not, then the truth in the advertisement is really irrelevant (1873).

The Pontifical Council for Social Communications believes that political advertising is an, obstruction of the democratic process, that it, seeks to distort the views and records of opponents, and appeals more to people s emotions and base instincts (Foley 313). Although these views are a little bit extreme in my opinion, I think that they have a lot of validity. I don t agree that it is an obstruction to the democratic process, I think that it helps the democratic process greatly. In this day and age, there are many people that don t follow politics and really do not care about going out to vote on Election Day. Now with the use of television advertising, more and more people can see the candidates and might actually go out and vote. I m not saying that these ads are all good, I know that they are usually meant to slander ones opponent and make people believe certain things that are not true. However, I think that it ultimately helps out the candidate. I do agree with the comments that it distorts the views and records of opponents and that it appeals to peoples emotions and base instincts. But appealing to peoples emotions and base instincts is the way that they get the people to vote for them. I don t like the fact that they slam their opponents in order to do this, I think that they should just focus on their issues. In addition to all of this, there is another problem with political advertising. Yes, it is a great way to get your name and face out there and get your views out to the general public, but the cost of it is so high. The Pontifical Council once again states that, the costs of advertising limit political competition to wealthy political candidates, or groups, or require that office-seekers compromise their integrity and independence by over- dependence on special interests or funds (Foley 313). So this causes many people to not run for a political office. They just do not have the capital that their opponents do, and cannot stay in the running. I think that this is a very unfortunate characteristic of politics. Because of this high price in advertising, there are many people that are very qualified to hold a political office, that just don t have the capital or backing to run. As the Pontifical Council says, the competition is limited to wealthy candidates or groups, or people that compromise their integrity (313). This is very unfortunate, but true. Also, many politicians will express the views that benefit the people that are backing the candidate. This is because these corporations or groups are paying the bills. one wonders whether, as moral police, government officials will do anything more than impose the values and interests of their most generous financiers. Can we seriously expect politicians to bite the hand that feeds them (Barry 201)?

Now, there is a new trend in political advertising, where advertising companies get involved. These companies start early and bid to a potential candidate to help him or her make advertisements. These people are professionals, and are experts at their trade. They know exactly what to say, and how to say it in the ads. The presidential race of 2000 has already drawn some interest from ad companies. Many companies that want to help potential candidate Bill Bradley, a former U.S. Senator, with his campaign are already approaching him (McCarthy 3). There are at least four major advertising companies that are interested in the possible candidacy of Bill Bradley (3). I am in favor of this type of advertising, these ad executives know what they are doing, and they also know the best way to get it done. I m sure that if Bradley decides to run for President, he will be very well represented in the media, considering that these high-powered companies are all trying to back him. These advertising companies are brought in mainly for strategic purposes, and I have to believe that these companies will give a candidate the best chance to win.

Political advertising has changed in many ways over the years. Now, it is probably the single most effective weapon in a political campaign. However, there are some drawbacks to it, advertising costs a lot of money, and is also used in order to slander ones opponent. Also, politicians might not necessarily show their own personal views, it could be the views of the corporation or group paying for the advertisements. From an ethical point of view, many believe that the truth is the ultimate key (traditional approach), and many others believe that it s all whether freedom and choice are valid (postmodern approach). I tend to be more of a traditionalist, thinking that the truth should be expressed in a political ad. I do not like how candidates set out to destroy the others running against them. They should just stick to the issues.

Works Cited

Foley, Archbishop John P. Ethics in Advertising: A Look at the Report by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Journal of Public Policy and Marketing. Volume 17, Number 2, Fall 1998, pp. 313-315.

Kates, Steven. A Qualitative Exploration into Voters Ethical Perceptions of Political Advertising: Discourse, Disinformation, and Moral Boundaries. Journal of Business Ethics. Volume 17, Number 16, December 1998, pp. 1871-1885.

McCarthy, Michael and Andrew McMains. Bradley Backers Court Ad Execs.

Adweek-Eastern Edition. 30 November 1998, p. 3.

Shaw, William H. and Vincent Barry. Moral Issues In Business. Seventh Edition,

Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Co. 1998.

Trigoboff, Dan. Local Races Veer Toward the Nasty. Broadcasting & Cable. 26

October 1998, pp. 6-11.

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