An animal rights group has narrowly lost a bid to open up paid political advertising in the UK.
Human rights judges in Strasbourg ruled in a 9-8 test case verdict that Government refusal to allow Animal Defenders International (ADI) to screen a TV advert promoting animal rights was not a breach of ADI's freedom of expression.
The blanket ban in the UK is designed to prevent a political advertising free-for-all in which the richest have most access to promote their views - US-style aggressive political advertising.
The verdict rejected a complaint by the animal rights non-government organisation that denying it the possibility to advertise on TV or radio breached the European Human Rights Convention, which guarantees free speech.
The ruling by the smallest possible majority of the Strasbourg judges declared: "The court noted that both parties (ADI and the Government) maintained that they were protecting the democratic process. It found in particular that the reviews of the ban by both parliamentary and judicial bodies had been exacting and pertinent, taking into account the European Court's case law."
The judges said the ban only applied to advertising and ADI had access to "alternative media, both broadcast and non-broadcast". The ruling also pointed out that there was a "lack of European consensus" on how to regulate paid political advertising in broadcasting - giving the UK Government "more room for manoeuvre when deciding on such matters as restricting public interest debate".
Culture Secretary Maria Miller said: "We welcome the fact the European Court has upheld the UK's blanket ban on political advertising. Political adverts are - and have always been - banned on British TV and radio. That ban has wide support and has helped sustain the balance of views which is at the heart of British broadcasting - and ensures the political views broadcast into our homes are not determined by those with the deepest pockets. This case was not about the particular views of this."
Ms Miller went on: "This case was not about the particular views of this organisation, but about the fact the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre considered that broadcasting this advert would breach the ban on political advertising in the UK."
The case was triggered by the BACC's refusal in 2005 to allow UK-based ADI, which campaigns against animal suffering, to run a TV advert juxtaposing images of a girl and then a chimpanzee in chains in an animal cage. The BACC said ADI's objectives were political in nature, and such a broadcast would breach the 2003 Communications Act. The High Court and the House of Lords agreed and ADI went to the Human Rights Court.
ADI chief executive Jan Creamer said: "This is a profoundly sad day for democracy. It is unjust that companies can advertise without being challenged. This judgment has denied the right of ADI and other similar campaign and advocacy groups to refute advertising claims made by companies."