Regulator refuses to ban junk food ads
2 September 2009
Australia's television regulator has refused to bow to pressure from health groups and ban ads for junk food.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has finished a two-year review of standards and tightened rules designed to protect children from inappropriate TV advertising.
Advertisers will be banned from using popular characters and celebrities to market products and the use of toys and giveaways as incentives to sell food will be restricted.
A ban on ads during pre-school children's programs will remain in place, while restrictions on advertising during children's (C) programs have been strengthened.
But ACMA has decided against ratcheting up the rules governing junk food advertising, saying there was only "limited evidence" linking the ads with childhood obesity rates.
The new standards, which come into force on January 1, were released as a Federal Government-appointed taskforce recommended changes to junk food advertising rules.
The National Preventative Health Taskforce on Monday called for a ban on junk food advertising on TV before 9:00pm and for the use of toys, cartoon characters and celebrities that appeal to children to be phased out.
The Obesity Policy Coalition describes the new standards as "hopelessly inadequate", saying they will have no impact on what is a childhood obesity epidemic.
But ACMA chairman Chris Chapman says there is no consensus in the research as to whether the association between food advertising and obesity was anything more than "modest".
"As ACMA has indicated previously, it is not a health body and must rely on the evidence from the health research sector," Mr Chapman said.
"There is only limited evidence about the benefits of banning food and beverage advertising, as this is an area where research is only beginning to emerge internationally and locally."
Jenny Buckland from the Children's Television Foundation says ACMA appears to be waiting for the Government to act.
"Clearly that kind of ban will lead to a revenue loss for broadcasters and that'll need to be considered in a whole context of broadcasters," she said.
"Because if it's just in relation to these children's programs, then broadcasters are pretty quickly going to come back and say, 'We're not going to do these children's programs anymore'.
"So I think ACMA wants a little bit more guidance from government."