To the outrage of the tabloid press and the creatively-challenged among Europe’s ad industry, the European Commission has mooted a ban one of their most treasured sacred cows – the media stereotype.

According to UK press reports, the EC is “in the final stages of preparation” of a law to ban sex discrimination and stereotyping in advertising and media, part of an ambitious piece of European social legislation proposed by the EU Social Affairs Commissioner, Anna Diamantopoulou.

According to Rupert Murdoch’s best-selling UK tabloid The Sun – famed for its topless female models featured daily on its third page – this dastardly cross-Channel threat could lead to the end of such popular British TV programmes as Men Behaving Badly – a formulaic series that scrapes laughs from boorish male behaviour.

Also at risk theoretically are such past jewels of the adman’s art as the ‘Hello Boys’ ad for Sara Lee Corporation’s Wonderbra featuring a well known supermodel’s mammary glands. Also Yves Saint-Laurent’s Opium fragrance whose brand proposition is sniggeringly implied by the legs akimbo stance of another pulchritudinous clotheshorse.

A note to the EC draft explains: “The purpose of this provision is to avoid throughout all forms of mass media stereotypical portrayals of women and men, as well as any projection of unacceptable images of men and women affecting human dignity and decency in advertisements.”

Britain's Institute of Practitioners in Advertising declared itself “baffled” by the draft regulation, its legal director Marina Palomba commenting Tuesday: “This proposal is in its earliest stage and I do not believe it will progress without substantial amendment and consultation.”

The agency-oriented IPA will join with the Advertising Association, representing advertisers and the media, to lobby on the issue. Neither body, however, has influence on TV and radio programme content or editorial matters – all subject to regulatory scrutiny (albeit of the toothless variety in the case of the latter).

Data sourced from: IPA Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff