Ofcom, ASA and BCAP: The Review of Rules to Protect Children from Alcohol Advertising on TV

by Reed Smith
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On 17 December 2013, Ofcom published an exchange of letters between its Chief Executive, Ed Richards, Chief Executive of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Guy Parker, and Chairman of the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), James Best, examining the current rules that limit children’s exposure to alcohol advertising on TV. The exchange followed the publication, in May, of independent research commissioned by Ofcom into young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising on TV. The research showed that while there was a gradual decline between 2002 and 2006 in the exposure of older children (10-15) to this kind of advertising, between 2007 and 2011 such exposure fluctuated considerably, but did not return to the low levels of exposure seen in 2006; in some years it was significantly higher.

The initial letters to the ASA and BCAP, sent by Ofcom in May, called on the co-regulatory bodies to examine the current rules in place regarding alcohol advertising on TV and to consider two issues:

  1. Whether the current approach to identifying which programmes should exclude alcohol advertising is working properly
  2. Whether the current approach is sufficiently comprehensive, given that much of children’s viewing is not restricted to children’s programmes, but to programmes of broader appeal, in which alcohol advertising may be permitted

Having re-examined the approach to restricting alcohol advertising on TV, including by extensive dialogue with broadcasters and the wider industry, the ASA and BCAP set out the results of their review in letters to Ofcom dated 31 October 2013, and pledged to take two significant actions in order to clarify and improve regulation.

BCAP undertook to issue an “improved and more detailed Television Guidance Note on the identification of programmes likely to appeal to children and young people for broadcasters to follow”. This guidance note now, for example, sets out how broadcasters should make advertisement scheduling decisions for simulcast or time-shifted channels. The note explains that “as the advertising content on both channels will be the same and is likely to derive from the scheduling decisions made for the primary channel, broadcasters should have due regard to the impact of the audience of the time-shifted channel”. Broadcasters should therefore consider periods during the day when the composition of the audience is likely to change, for example, children arriving home from school. The guidance note was published on 17 December 2013 and can be found here.

The ASA has confirmed that it will conduct a monitoring and enforcement exercise in 2014 to test the response of broadcasters to BCAP’s guidance. BCAP will review the outcome of this exercise to ascertain whether further changes to the guidance are necessary.

In a final letter from Ofcom, dated 13 December 2013, Ed Richards sets out Ofcom’s intention to conduct its own further research on the amount of alcohol advertising seen by children on TV once the impact of the new guidance on broadcasters’ scheduling practices has been assessed.

Copies of the letters can be found here.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Reed Smith | Attorney Advertising

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