11 December 2011


The Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA) has released a 37 page report on industry self-regulation of food and beverage advertising to children on free-to-air commercial television [PDF].

The document reflects ACMA's undertaking in 2009 to monitor industry self-regulation of food and beverage advertising to children. Unfortunately, it quickly flicks the regulatory problem to the new Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA), an entity without enforcement powers and responsibilities.

ACMA indicates that the report covers "the operation of two key food industry initiatives developed in response to community concerns about junk food advertising to children" -
The Australian Food & Grocery Council’s Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (the 'AFGC Initiative') and the Quick Service Restaurant Industry's initiative for Responsible Advertising & Marketing to Children (the 'QSR initiative') have been operating now for 18 months. The ACMA had agreed to monitor these initiatives when it reviewed the Children’s Television Standards (CTS) [PDF] in 2009.
ACMA's findings are underwhelming, with the regulator stating that -
It is unclear whether the AFGC and QSR Initiatives have resulted in a real reduction in the level of children’s exposure to food and beverage advertising on free-to-air television, and

There is continuing community concerns around food and beverage advertising to children.
Who'da thunkit, even if you are working for what used to be tagged as the fast food vendors or purveyors of junk food.

ACMA goes on to state that -
Taking into consideration the limited research on the effectiveness of the industry initiatives, the limited evidence of the benefits of restricting food and beverage advertising and the absence of national standard nutrition criteria, the ACMA will not be moving to develop new television standards on food and beverage advertising to children.

The ACMA will continue to investigate complaints about advertisements during children’s programs, including food and beverage advertisements. However, the ACMA does not propose to conduct further monitoring of the RCMI and QSRI initiatives.
Indeed. ACMA goes on to state that -
The report notes the recently created Australian National Preventive Health Agency (ANPHA) and the key role it will play in monitoring food advertising and devising obesity prevention strategies in the future.

"As the broadcasting regulator, the ACMA reiterates that it is neither equipped nor resourced to make independent judgements on issues of preventive health" said ACMA Chairman, Chris Chapman. "The ACMA's view is that the ANPHA is ideally placed to inform and promote a whole-of-government response to the challenges of childhood overweight and obesity and looks forward to working collaboratively with the ANPHA on these issues wherever appropriate."

While the ACMA will not develop program standards on food advertising to children at this time, it will continue its role of administering the CTS and investigating complaints about prohibited advertising during children’s television programming periods.
Not my problem, and congratulations, you have inherited the "it's too too hard" basket?

As things stand there is no financial penalty for breaches of the industry initiatives or [Australia Association of National Advertisers, AANA] codes. The report notes the Obesity Policy Coalition comment that
In the event that the [Advertising Standards] Board upholds a complaint under the AANA or food industry codes there are very limited consequences for the advertiser. The Board ... has no power to force an advertiser to comply with its request: the system relies entirely on voluntary compliance by advertisers. No other sanctions apply.

... by the time a complaint is submitted, and a determination is made, a period of up to 9 weeks is likely to have passed since the advertisement was broadcast. … Even if an advertisement is withdrawn as a result of an ASB determination (or complaint), the time that will have passed means that any damaging impact on children will have already occurred.

As a consequence of the lack of effective deterrents for breaches, we are concerned that neither the AFGC or signatories to the QSRII are committed to complying with their codes.