Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2016
The Australian Communication and Media Authority
(ACMA) has released a report stating that
community concerns regarding food and beverage advertising to
children remain, despite the industry's endeavours to
address such issues through self-regulation.
In 2007, the ACMA began inviting submissions as part of its
review of the Children's Television Standards. The media
watchdog received a large number of responses from organisations
such as the Cancer Council as well as the general public,
expressing their concerns that the impact of food and beverage
advertising has led to the rise in child obesity.
The submissions highlighted the repetitive, persuasive and often
misleading advertising techniques used by the food industry, and
thousands of petitions were received by the ACMA calling for the
ban of food and beverage advertising during programs where children
make up a significant proportion of the viewing audience.
Despite the considerable concerns expressed by the public, the
ACMA refused to impose additional regulations outside of its
existing Children's Television Standards which prohibit
food and beverage advertising during pre-school programming
periods, as well as certain advertising techniques during
children's programming periods. Instead, the ACMA undertook
to monitor two industry initiatives founded by the Australian Food
and Grocery Council and the fast food industry.
Industry initiatives for self-regulation
The industry's voluntary initiatives commenced in 2009,
and have since been adopted by companies such as McDonalds and
Kellogg's. In response to the public's submissions,
the initiatives require that advertisements to children must
promote healthy dietary choices and lifestyles, with complaints to
be assessed by the Advertising Standards Board
The ACMA's findings
The ACMA's report released in December last year
revealed that industry self-regulation over the past two years has
done little to address the community concerns which prompted them.
Research studies have shown that while data samples indicate some
reductions in the rate of food and beverage advertising on
commercial television, the proportion of non-core food advertising
Indeed, despite strong community concerns, only 32 complaints
were made to the ASB through the self-regulation initiatives, of
which 26 were dismissed. The small number of complaints,
particularly successful complaints, may be due to the very narrow
scope of the initiatives, and their being limited to advertisements
directly targeting children, and screened during programs directed
to or watched predominantly by children. This means that marketing
which is arguably aimed at adults, or occurring during programs
watched by adults such as The Simpsons, are not covered by
Furthermore, the persistence of community concerns can be
attributed to the initiatives' reliance on voluntary
compliance by advertisers. In the event that a complaint is upheld,
signatories do not face financial penalties for breaches of the
initiatives, and the ABS is merely empowered to request that any
offending advertisements be withdrawn or modified.
While the ACMA has announced that it will cease further
monitoring of the initiatives, the report pointed to the newly
established Australian National Preventive Health Agency's
focus on food and beverage advertising. It remains to be seen
whether this new agency for preventative health programs will use
its evaluative powers to promote a whole-of-government response to
address the considerable community concerns over advertising of
food and beverages to children.
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