A ban on TV advertising for junk foods during the early evening period (before 9pm) is under consideration by the UK government.
The Blair administration, concerned at the rising tide of child obesity, sees such a ban as a viable option and hopes to secure the co-operation of the food industry in a voluntary embargo.
However, some industry insiders believe this to be a forlorn hope, pointing to the massive loss in TV ad revenues and agency commissions that would ensue. But with the whiff of a general election in the first half of next year, premier Tony Blair may see the child obesity issue as a potential vote-winner.
Earlier this week in parliament, Blair introduced his third-term agenda, claiming there to be "general agreement" that the government should do more. "We will look carefully at measures that protect young children from pressures to make unhealthy choices – such as those from excessive advertising of foods high in sugar, salt and fat," he said.
Health secretary John Reid has vowed "more intervention" on the child obesity issue, saying: "We start from the position not of dictating to people but enabling them to make informed and healthy choices. Children aren't always able to make these informed choices because they are not mature adults."
But a mandatory ban on advertising to kids is unlikely, given that politicians un the UK rarely wave big sticks at big business. Instead, they hope the food and ad industries will sign up to a red, orange and green 'traffic light' system that identifies the health characteristics of various foods.
A proposal to this effect is likely to form part of a government white paper in the near future. It will identify levels of salt, fat and sugar in certain products.
Meantime, the UK government's transmedia and telecoms watchdog, Ofcom, has issued a new set of guidelines for commercial TV franchise-holders ITV, [channel] Five and Teletext.
As required by the 2003 Communications Act, the guidelines concern the basis on which the franchisees bid for their licenses to broadcast. These will take into account such factors as each company's share of overall ad and sponsorship revenues. Also their participation in the process of switching to the digital spectrum.
This approach attempts to set a 'fair value' for each licence and bring 'clarity' and 'transparency' to the process of awarding them. Ofcom will also consider the context of the current market environment and ensure that the costs continue to be reasonable throughout the licence period. The cost of each broadcaster's public service obligations will also be factored into equation.
The proposed guidelines are part of a major consultation exercise prior to the phasing-in of digital replacement licences. The latter are an essential element in the government's plan to begin the switchover from analogue to digital transmissions as early as 2007.
This would see ITV, Five, state-owned commercial broadcaster Channel 4 and Teletext swapping their existing licences for DRLs by the end of 2004, enabling the government to start creating digital-only areas from 2007.
Data sourced from multiple origins; additional content by WARC staff