PEI

New law aims to keep government out of the 'fake news' business

After a failed attempt to pass a bill to put limits on government advertising last fall, P.E.I.'s Green Party was able to move its Government Advertising Standards Act through the spring session.

Law would not prevent government from delivering important messages

Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker says 'I wanted to make sure that governments would not be contributing to that gray area, to make sure that there were very clear standards in line as to what was OK and what's not OK.' (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

After a failed attempt to pass a bill to put limits on government advertising last fall, P.E.I.'s Green Party was able to move its Government Advertising Standards Act through the spring session.

Last fall the bill fell to a Liberal majority, but the April election resulted in a Progressive Conservative minority. The Tories had also tabled a bill to limit government advertising last fall.

Both bills were prompted by a government ad about its climate change plan, which the PCs and Greens described as blatantly partisan.

Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker said the province spends $300,000 a year on advertising, and it's important for Islanders to be confident that money is being spent appropriately.

"In this age of news and fake news, and reality and unreality, I wanted to make sure that governments would not be contributing to that gray area, to make sure that there were very clear standards in line as to what was OK and what's not OK," said Bevan-Baker.

MLAs can make complaints

Bevan-Baker said there was nothing in the bill to prevent government from delivering important messages, such as information on how to stop smoking or warning people about the dangers of passing school buses, but it does provide guidelines to prevent partisanship.

Those guidelines include not picturing members of cabinet, and not using party colours.

The system is complaint-based. Any MLA feeling an ad is overly partisan can lodge a complaint with the provincial auditor general's office, which will make a ruling on the matter.

Bevan-Baker said he has discussed the system with Auditor General Jane MacAdam, and he believes the system will be largely self-policing and not place a large burden on her office.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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