"Some broadcasters will cease to exist" if the government proceeds with a plan to prohibit the advertising of junk foods before 9pm [WAMN 15-Oct-04], claims the Food Advertising Unit of Britain's Advertising Association.

"There's a bigger picture that needs to be considered," says the FAU's Claudia Camozzi. That picture is doubly disturbing, believe some media analysts – not least because of broadcasters' risky over-reliance on a single market segment.

Of the £577 million ($1.04bn; €834.56m) spent annually on TV food advertising, no less than sixty per cent comes from the five largest categories in that sector – confectionery, crisps [potato chips], soft drinks, fast food, and pre-sugared breakfast cereals.

So it is hardly surprising that the nation's largest commercial broadcaster, ITV, is alarmed. "Banning food advertising to children would have severe implications for the children's television production market, of which ITV's £38m annual investment forms a significant part," said a spokesman.

Any such restriction, argues the FAU's Camozzi, would leave commercial networks unable to compete with the BBC – which being taxpayer-funded is not ad-reliant. It would also, she claims, deprive adults of information about food products.

Camozzi cited research from the government's Food Standards Agency and Ofcom which, she argues, shows that advertising is a minor influence on what children decide they want to eat. A ban would be a "disproportionate" response because it had not been proved that advertising bans would change people's health.

Some onlookers believe that government ministers' ongoing threats of a mandatory ban is a strategy to soften-up the advertising and media industries into acceptance of a far tighter voluntary code of food advertising practice.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff