LONDON: British media and telecoms regulator Ofcom has this week been hit by a fusillade of complaints from over forty charities and lobby groups. All cavil at the watchdog's secrecy and tardiness in ruling whether or not to ban the advertising of junk food and drinks on TV before the so-called 'watershed' of 9pm.

After that hour, it is presumed that younger children - the most susceptible audience for junk food ads - are no longer glued to a TV screen. A presumption seen by many on both sides of the fence as debatable.

Following a period of consultation that ended June 30, Ofcom has presented a shortlist of four possible outcomes to its deliberations:

  1. A pre-watershed ban of all such advertising.

  2. Restrictions on the volume of such ads.

  3. Restrictions on their specific content.

  4. Restriction on programme sponsorship.
To the fury of the lobbying groups, Ofcom has spoken out against the first option, while refusing to release certain data on the nature of the responses received during the period of consultation.

Refusing to be baulked, the National Heart Forum carried out its own analysis of the responses. Says deputy-ceo Jane Landon: "Ofcom has argued throughout the consultation process that a 9pm ban on junk food advertising would be 'disproportionate'.

"Yet these responses to their own consultation bear witness to the widespread and rising concern about the damage to children's health and well being from commercial pressures to eat unhealthy foods.

She added: "As Ofcom makes up its mind about what action to propose, it will surely have to rethink its notions of proportionality, both in terms of the huge public health gains from a 9pm ban and of such overwhelming public support."

Among the supporters of a total pre-9pm ban is government food regulator, the Food Standards Agency.

In the finest tradition of bureaucratic procrastination, Ofcom yet to specify a date for its final ruling, promising only that it will be "later this year".

Data sourced from BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff