Monday, May 29, 2023
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Miguel Ángel Blanes Climent

The transparency of institutional advertising

Doctor of Law

The campaigns that public authorities carry out to provide citizens with information about their rights and obligations, the functioning of public institutions and the services they provide consume significant amounts of public money. The need to distribute institutional publicity equally among the different media, rather than favouring the most affluent, justifies the application of public procurement rules inspired by the principles of objectivity, equality and non-discrimination.


For these reasons, institutional campaigns must respect the principles of general interest, institutional loyalty, truthfulness, transparency, effectiveness, responsibility, efficiency and austerity in spending.

The Courts of Justice have handled various concepts of institutional publicity. A broad concept includes all those publicity contracting acts that are carried out by a public institution or institution, whose purpose is to transmit information about their activities with the intention of general dissemination; which is manifested generally by its inclusion in more than one communication medium.

At other times, a restricted concept has been applied. There has been a distinction made between "institutional publicity", which governs the principle of equality, and "official publicity", in which the Administration is free to choose the means of communication to comply with the legal requirements of publicity of administrative acts in terms of expropriation, urban planning, recruitment, and so on.

The Supreme Court reminds us that the public authorities not only should, but moreover must inform citizens of the public services they provide, and of all the measures that are necessary for them to exercise their rights and fulfil their duties. However, this activity must be purely informative, devoid of any laudatory nuances of the action of those powers or their holders. Any claims to highlighting the achievements of their management, if included in a campaign, places it squarely in the realm of legal prohibition.  

State regulations are not very transparent

As for the publicity regarding public expenditure spent on publicity or institutional campaigns, in this regard the state regulations are not very transparent. We expect that the Government will prepare an annual publicity and communication report detailing the campaigns carried out, the amount spent and the successful tenderers of the contracts concluded. This report is not public. It will be sent to Parliament in the first session of each year and will be made available to all professional organisations in the sector.

Institutional campaigns must respect the principles of general interest, institutional loyalty, truthfulness, transparency, effectiveness, responsibility, efficiency and austerity in spending

We should note that in July 2011, the same political party that proposed the quarterly online publication of public spending carried out in institutional publicity campaigns subsequently approved the Law 19/2013 of December 9 on transparency, access to public information and Good governance without making any specific reference to this issue.

Thus, unless we understand that the institutional publicity contract is a contract that must be published the same as all other contracts (Article 8.1.a of Law 13/2013), it would not be mandatory to publish detailed information the publicity and institutional promotion campaigns on the website of a large number of public institutions: General Administration of the State and state public sector (autonomous organisms, mercantile companies, foundations, universities and corporations of Public Law); Congress, Senate and other constitutional institutions, and also neither the autonomous and local administrations whose obligation is not imposed by specific regional legislation or transparency.

This undoubtedly provokes the difficulty of neither knowing the fate of the public money invested every year in institutional publicity campaigns by this goodly number of public institutions, nor its distribution among the different means of communication.

In addition, we should also note that in 2012, a law was proposed -which has not successful- to improve the transparency of institutional publicity. Some of the measures proposed were quite interesting, such as the prohibition of campaigns aimed at highlighting the achievements or objectives obtained by the Administrations, a spending limit on the development of a previous Annual Plan, and an annual public domain report that includes all the announcements and institutional campaigns carried out in the previous year, indicating their purpose, cost and contractors awarded.

Transparency in the autonomous regions is very disparate

Fis saber mas

The situation is very different regarding the transparency laws approved in the autonomous regions approved so far. These can be separated into three large groups, from lesser to greater obligation to actively publish information on institutional publicity:

The law of autonomic transparency says nothing: this is the case of Aragon and Galicia

The law of autonomous transparency requires the dissemination of the overall amount of public expenditure, without further details. This is the case of Navarre, Extremadura, Andalusia and Murcia

The regional transparency law requires publication not only of the total amount of expenditure, but also of important additional information. This is the case of the Canary Islands, Catalonia and Valencia

In the Canary Islands, in addition to the overall expenditure, contracts are also specifically included, as well as "the corresponding media plans in the case of publicity campaigns (Article 24.Bh) of Canary Islands Law 12/2014 of December 26, on transparency and access to public information).

In Catalonia, the "different concepts of the campaign and the amount allocated to each media" must be broken down (Article 11.1.f) Catalan Law 19/2014, of December 29, on Transparency, Access to Public Information and Good Government).

Finally, in the Valencian Community, costs must be separated between publicity and institutional promotion campaigns, disaggregating the means of communication used and the amount allocated to each medium, adding, "at least once a year" (Article 9.1.) Of the Valencian Law 2/2015, of April 2, on Transparency, Good Government and Citizen Participation).

It is very important that the following minimum data should be published, at least every year (ideally in real time): amount spent on each campaign; its basic characteristics and means of communication awarded

At the level of local ordinances, the picture is also very different: from the mere total amount of public expenditure disembursed, without further detail, -Article 19.x) of the Transparency Ordinance of the City of Seville- to a more detailed publication specifying the budgeted and actual costs, gross and net, for the design and dissemination of publicity and institutional communication, indicating the objective, area of government, district, company, consortium or foundation responsible, media and support, awarded and supplier and execution period (article 11.g) of the Ordinance of the City of Madrid).

In any case, in my opinion, it is very important that the following minimum data should be published, at least every year (ideally in real time): amount spent on each campaign; its basic characteristics and means of communication awarded.

Without such basic information, it is impossible to know if the institutional campaigns respect the principles of general interest, institutional loyalty, truthfulness, transparency, efficiency, responsibility, efficiency and austerity in spending.

Miguel Ángel Blanes Climent has an Official Master Environmental Law and Sustainability (MADAS) by the University of Alicante. He currently acts as Counsel for the Síndic de Greuges (Ombudsman) of the Valencian Community



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