The days of government adverts featuring a beaming minister looming large over a list of his or her achievements could soon be over, according to guidelines issued on Tuesday by the Standards Commissioner. 

These guidelines were put up for public consultation after Standards Commissioner George Hyzler in April found a €7,000 government advert campaign featuring minister Carmelo Abela did not contain any “information of value” to the public and was intended to boost the minister’s image.

Abela defended his actions by pointing out that no guidelines for government adverts existed.

The new guidelines seek to regulate paid adverts by government, including opinion pieces, features or video clips that form part of a paid package featured in the media. 

Standards Commissioner George Hyzler wants government advertisements to exclude the names or photographs of ministers. 

An exemption is however being made for promotional material, as long as the content is relevant to the publication and contributes to the achievement of its legitimate objectives. 

To qualify for this exemption, the promotional material must not be circulated or broadcast against payment. 

Government adverts and promotional material should carry official logos or otherwise make it clear that they have been produced by or for the government.

The draft guidelines say this applies in particular to advertorials and sponsored interviews or programmes and any paid content. 

“The public should be made aware that such articles have been paid for with public funds. government-sponsored publications should carry a declaration to that effect.”

Any government adverts and promotional material should not include statements that are disrespectful towards third parties or overly contentious.

They should not include reference to a political party,  include images or slogans used by a political party or individual politicians ormake reference to the websites of politicians or political parties, or to partisan social media pages.

Ministers should direct public funding to the media for advertising purposes on the basis of fair and objective criteria.

The Standards Commissioner makes it clear that the guidelines do not cover all possible scenarios, and the absence of guidelines on any matter does not exonerate ministers from their obligation to observe the ministerial code of ethics in all circumstances. 

Ministers also have the option of consulting the Standards Commissioner if they have doubts about whether an advertisement campaign will fall foul of the guidelines. 

Members of the public wishing to give their feedback on the draft guidelines, included below, can do so on: office@standardscommissioner.com until 23 July. 

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