Changes to the Free TV Code of Practice weaken protection of children

Self-regulation of advertising to children has just got weaker. From 1 December 2015 a new Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice will come into effect.

Clauses in the previous code that referred to protecting children from unhealthy food marketing have been removed.

Although these clauses were vague, with ads only breaching the code if they encouraged or promoted an inactive lifestyle or unhealthy eating or drinking habits, they did provide a mechanism for complaints to television stations which could be followed up with ACMA if the complainant wasn’t satisfied with the response.

M rated content is now permitted 7.30 pm to 6.00 am each day and noon–3.00pm on school days. This was previously 8.30 pm to 5.00 am every day and noon–3.00 pm on school days. The ACMA says that initiatives that have been put in place to address these changes include:

·       sports programs, G programs and PG programs between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm and between 5.00 am and 6.00 am will not contain M classified program promotions or advertisements,

·         sports programs, and children’s films that begin before 8.30 pm and continue after 8.30 pm, will not contain M classified program promotions or advertisements until after 9.30 pm,

·         viewers will be alerted to M programs broadcast between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm by the presence of consumer advice for all M programs broadcast at this time,

·         alcohol advertising is not permitted between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm and 5.00 am and 6.00 am (unless the program is a sports program on a weekend or public holiday).

Now all TV advertising that isn’t in a ‘C’ or ‘P’ program, specifically covered in the Children’s Television Standards, falls under advertising and food industry self-regulatory codes. These codes have many loopholes, including the definition that only advertising that is ‘primarily’ directed to children is covered. This is particularly concerning when we know the highest numbers of children watch TV programs that are not specifically directed to them but more a general viewing audience.

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