Alcohol advertisers benefit from sneaky changes to TV broadcasting code

Tuesday 24 March, 2015


More alcohol advertising would be allowed during children's viewing times if proposed changes to the television industry code go ahead, Cancer Council Victoria warns.

Cancer Council Victoria senior legal policy adviser Sondra Davoren said proposed changes to the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, by industry regulator Free TV Australia, would expose far more young people to the harmful effects of alcohol advertising.

The changes, which have been released for public comment, would allow alcohol advertising to be shown:

  • From 7.30 pm, under a proposal to extend the "M" classification zone by one hour (currently 8.30 pm); and
  • Before 7:30 pm during sports broadcasts on weekends (including Friday nights) or public holidays (currently alcohol advertising is only permitted during live sports broadcasts on Saturdays and Sundays and public holidays).

Ms Davoren said the existing Code of Practice already resulted in heavy exposure of alcohol advertising to children and young people, but the proposed new code would make the situation even worse.

"Extending the "M" classification period will allow alcohol advertising to be shown earlier to greater numbers of young people, including young children. Also, by omitting the requirement that a sports broadcast be live, alcohol advertising won't be restricted to live broadcasts; any sports broadcast on a weekend or public holiday could include alcohol advertising, including replays of old matches," she said.

"Free TV Australia has not been completely transparent about the proposed changes to the code. Some of the changes are not obvious and unless you do a careful comparison of the current code and the proposed code, you wouldn't even realise anything was wrong."

Free TV claim that children constitute a very small percentage of the audience for sporting events, and those children viewing are doing so predominantly in the company of an adult. However, by focusing on the proportion of children in an audience, rather than the numbers of children exposed, Free TV is glossing over the significant numbers of children affected.

In 2012, the top rating live sport broadcast for children aged five to nine years was the AFL Grand Final, broadcast on free-to-air, with an average audience of 109,000 in that age group. By comparison, the top-rating program overall for five to nine year olds in the same year (The Voice - Sunday) attracted 120,000 viewers.

Ms Davoren said Free TV's failure to appreciate the high number of children watching live sport was concerning, given that evidence showed that exposure of children and young people to alcohol advertising led to earlier initiation of alcohol use and more frequent and heavy drinking by young Australians, and patterns of harmful drinking later in life.

The move to relax conditions on alcohol advertising also flies in the face of community sentiment.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said a recent online poll* commissioned by the organisation reveals almost two in three Australians support a ban on alcohol advertising during live sport that is broadcast during children's viewing hours. The poll surveyed 1020 Australian adults and found that nationally 62% support such a ban. The strongest support was found in Victoria, where 66% support the ban.

"It seems ridiculous to allow more alcohol ads on TV when the majority of Australians support the opposite. Our survey shows high support for a ban on alcohol advertising during live sport that is broadcast during children's viewing hours," said Mr Harper.

"Children and young people love watching sport almost as much as they love playing it. So what sort of message are we sending them when their favourite players, teams and sporting codes are acting as one giant advertisement for alcohol?"

Research shows that live broadcasts of popular sports including cricket and Australian Rules football are continually being hijacked by alcohol advertisers that exploit the exemption in the current television broadcasting code, and in the process constantly expose young sports fans to alcohol brands.

Alcohol consumption is related to significant short and long term health problems such as injury, car accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, strokes and cancer. Reducing exposure of children and young people to alcohol advertising is recognised as a critical step to reducing harmful consumption, in the short and long term, which is why the National Preventative Health Taskforce recommended in 2009 the phasing out of alcohol promotions in sport as a way to protect children and young people.

The closing date for public comment on the review of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice is Friday 3 April 2015. Send submissions to Free TV Australia at code2015@freetv.com.au.

Updated: 24 Mar, 2015