One of the more heartening findings from last years’ National Drug Household Survey was that young Australians are drinking less than their parents, and that they’re starting to drink later. Finally, regulations (including Secondary Supply legislation) enacted to protect kids from booze are beginning to take effect.
That’s why it’s so disappointing that the industry body representing free-to-air TV is calling for changes that would allow alcohol to be advertised from 7:30pm each evening. FreeTV Australia is calling for public submissions on a review they’ve proposed to the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, which regulates what can be shown on TV.
FreeTV wants to amend the Code, so that programs rated M and MA would be brought forward an hour. Programs rated ‘M’ would be shown at 7.30pm instead of 8.30pm, and programs rated MA would be shown at 8.30pm instead of 9.30pm.
Apart from the issue of adult content being accessed at earlier times if these changes go ahead, these moves allow alcohol advertising to be screened earlier on free-to-air television. FreeTV’s argument for changing the current programing times is that it’s at a competitive disadvantage with other platforms for television broadcasting, like pay TV and internet streaming services, which don’t have similar restrictions.
It’s understandable that free-to-air channels want the ability to compete with the new digital streaming providers –that aren’t limited to airing their raunchiest shows until after the kids have gone to bed. But what they see as their ability to contend in the digital era shouldn’t come at the expense of protecting our children, by watering-down regulations that we know work.
It comes as no surprise that in study after study, alcohol advertising has been found to significantly impact young people’s decision making, and their behaviour relating to alcohol use. These studies show that exposure to advertising while young results in an earlier age of alcohol initiation, and increases the likelihood of heavy drinking. An independent review of the effects of alcohol promotion conducted in the UK (Meier, Brennan, O’Reilly, Purshouse, Taylor, 2008) noted:
Based on a review of 31 studies conducted in several countries, there is evidence… that exposure to broadcast media alcohol advertising (television, films, radio, music and music video as well as the Internet) is associated with early initiation of drinking as well as drinking patterns.*
There are already loopholes that alcohol advertisers in Australia can exploit, by showing ads in the middle of the day during live sport events — we don’t need to give them another way to target kids, not when we’re finally starting to see progress in the battle against harmful underage drinking.
On that basis, we believe the changes proposed to the viewing times should be opposed and the current restrictions on times for advertising alcohol should remain. In fact why aren’t all digital channels, including pay TV, following the same restriction? A copy of the proposed Code revision is available from freetv.com.au, so be sure to make your own submission before the closing date on Friday, 3 April.
We encourage anyone submitting their feedback on the proposed changes to FreeTV to also send a copy to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, who will need to approve any changes.
We’ve seen time and again how community pressure can result in huge wins for regulation against Big Alcohol, and once again, it’s time to be heard.
Remember if you have any alcohol advertising that is inappropriate please submit your complaint to Alcohol Advertising Review Board.
*Source: Meier, P., Brennan, A., O’Reilly, D., Purshouse, R., Taylor, K (2008). Independent Review of the Effects of Alcohol Pricing and Promotion. University of Sheffield.