Media companies draw varied lines on same sex marriage advertising

If the Turnbull government's proposed same-sex marriage postal plebiscite goes ahead, predictions are many of the arguments will be bitter, divisive and possibly misleading. Mumbrella's Zoe Samios asked media owners and publishers what restrictions they plan to place on advertisers as the campaigns get underway.

Following the Turnbull government’s announcement this week it would run a postal plebiscite on marriage equality, the advertising industry launched a website – Say No to No – a pledge not to work on the ‘No’ campaign should the postal plebiscite go ahead.

At the same time, the ABC sent out an internal email to staff, warning employees, particularly those with high profiles, against voicing their opinions about the issue.

The pro-marriage equality campaign, which launched earlier this year

With the plebiscite being run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics rather than the Electoral Commission, advertising guidelines around political campaigning do not apply.

In a speech yesterday, Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition, said Turnbull had “given his blessing” for “billboards, websites, pamphlets, TV, advertising, and online material” which would “vilify and demean” LGBTI Australians and their families.

“There will be no protection against ballot fraud, electoral bribery, intimidation, interfering with the electoral roll or publishing misleading and deceptive material.

“The slogans will be shouted at the children of same-sex couples. Young people who are gay will be confronted by it on social media every day. I loathe the trolls and the haters but I expected more from the Prime Minister.

“I hold the Prime Minister responsible for every hurtful bit of filth this debate will unleash. That is not because the Prime Minister has said it, not because the Prime Minister agrees with it—he clearly doesn’t—but because the Prime Minister has licensed this debate.”

But what will media companies do when the campaigns come to market?

While creatives are putting their foot down, arguing not to create the ‘No’ campaign, most major Australian media companies told Mumbrella they will be accepting advertising from both sides, provided it sits within their guidelines while smaller publications are taking a strong commercial stand.

Network Ten

“As a broadcaster we will offer the opportunity for both sides to be heard – subject to the content meeting the usual requirements relating to classification, vilification, and political matter.

“As with all advertising, the decision as to what is put to air ultimately rests with the broadcaster and we would ask advertisers to engage in a respectful debate.”

Nine Network

“We will accept advertising from all parties. They will be required to comply with the Free TV Industry Code of Practice and related codes.”

 Seven West Media (Seven Network and Pacific Magazines) 

“We respect the right of all people to be treated equally under the law.  We also support free speech.  We therefore believe it is important that all parties to this debate have a fair opportunity to express their views on this matter, particularly given its political significance and the public voting process that has been decided upon.

“Consequently, Seven West Media will accept advertisements from both the yes and no cases in this debate.  Seven West Media will reserve the right to refuse advertisements that are offensive or misleading, consistent with the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice and the AANA Code of Practice.”

Fairfax Media

“Advertising which meets Fairfax’s Terms and Conditions is accepted.”

In Fairfax’s terms and conditions, there is a clause which offers them the right to refuse advertising, which is considered, in Fairfax’s opinion, to be “illegal, defamatory, offensive, obscene and/or contrary to the business interest, goodwill and/or reputation of Fairfax or any of its customers or vendors.”

News Corp Australia

“We have no restrictions on all advertising in this matter.”

Southern Cross Austereo

As a media company, SCA has a responsibility to ensure that where the citizens are being asked to vote on this issue, all positions that are expressed in a reasonable and responsible way are given the opportunity to be aired and accordingly SCA is prepared to run advertisements for both the yes and the no campaign. Our employees are entitled to take whatever position they may choose to take in relation to the marriage equality debate and we respect their views.

“We reserve the right to refuse any ads on the basis that they may be in breach of legislation, in breach of our radio and television codes of practice, in breach of the AANA advertising code or offensive.”


“Foxtel is a strong corporate supporter of marriage equality. We believe that an inclusive society that treats all people equally will be a more successful society and that benefits everyone, including businesses like ours.

“However, we recognise that in a democracy, especially where citizens are being asked to vote, it is important that all legitimate points of view are aired. Therefore, we will be willing to run advertisements for both the yes and no cases. Foxtel reserves the right to refuse advertisements that are offensive or misleading; in fact we are obliged to do so by both the AANA and ASTRA Codes of Practice.”

Pedestrian TV

“PEDESTRIAN.TV proudly supports same-sex marriage. While a postal plebiscite is something we staunchly disagree with, if it’s the road that leads to marriage equality, we’ll do everything in our power to ensure our audience stays informed on how to vote ‘YES’ .

“We’ll be supporting numerous initiatives launched by the ‘YES’ camp and would welcome any advertising that’s a positive reflection of this message. While we appreciate the right to respectful freedom of expression, we won’t be accepting any advertising material from anti-equality groups who seek to deny this basic human right.

“We look forward to a day in the very-near future when every relationship is recognised not for who it’s between, but what it’s about: love.”


“In a campaign thats sure to be emotive, Mamamia & BROAD both today signed the ‘Say No to No’ pledge and will be actively supporting the Vote Yes campaign and promoting stories of diversity and equality in line with our long history of campaigning in favour of marriage equality.

“The utterly unnecessary plebiscite is already causing distress amongst the LGBTI community, including our own Mamamia staff, which is why Mamamia and BROAD have drawn a firm line in the sand and will only be promoting and working with campaigns that support a ‘Yes’ vote for marriage equality.

“Mamamia will continue to be proud supporters of Australian Marriage Equality (AME).”

Daily Mail Australia

“Daily Mail Australia will accept advertising from both sides of the same sex marriage debate – provided the creative and messaging from either campaign isn’t misleading, inflammatory, offensive or in flagrant disregard for the democratic process.”

Guardian Australia

“Our ​p​olicy on advertising is that we make no guarantee that campaigns will be accepted, and we may reject adverts​ at our discretion. In her article on Saturday, Guardian Australia editor, Lenore Taylor, observed that ‘running both sides of the actual question is not the same as running “both sides” of all the other spurious “questions” the anti-equality case is setting up as obfuscations.’

“In line with this stance, Guardian Australia will review any creative submitted and reserve the right to decline advertising from campaigners​ that point to such spurious arguments as outlined in Lenore’s article.”

Codes of practice and guidelines

Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice

The TV Code of Practice states licence holders cannot broadcast any content which is likely to “provoke or perpetuate in, or by a reasonable person, intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a person or group of people because of age, colour, gender, national or ethnic origin, disability, race, religion or sexual preference.”

AANA Code of Practice

The Australian Association of National Advertisers’ Code of Practice points out all advertising and marketing communications cannot depict material which “discriminates against or vilifies a person or section of the community on account of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, sexual preference, religion, disability, mental illness or political belief.”

ASTRA Code of Practice

The Australian Subscription Broadcast Television Code of Practice requires licensees to comply with relevant Codes adopted by the AANA.

It adds: “Advertising shall not deliberately cause serious offense to the intended audience of the channel on which the advertisement is broadcast.”


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