At the TV 98 conference in Barcelona this week, Andrew Brown, the
director-general of the Advertising Association, will present a
videotaped interview with Chris Smith MP, the secretary of state for
culture, media and sport.
In the edited transcript that follows, Smith gives his views on a range
of advertising-related issues.
AB: The main characteristic of advertising-funded free-to-air TV is the
huge investment it brings in indigenous programme production, which
generates the mass audiences advertisers want. In the digital age, what
measures could the Government take at a national or European level to
promote the continuing success of this sector?
CS: Continuing success is what we very much want to see. That’s why I’m
absolutely determined to continue the policy put in place by the
previous Government of ensuring that the major free-to-air TV channels -
particularly ITV but also Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 - can have
guaranteed places in the new digital markets. They will be providing
material funded by advertising through those market practices. Indeed, I
think ITV is considering not just having a simulcast of existing
channels but also embarking on a further channel on its multiplex, again
funded by advertising. So I see advertising-funded free-to-air TV as
being a major component of the digital age.
AB: With the exception of tobacco, on which the Government’s view is
extremely clear and on which there is a very clear mandate, what
assurances can you give advertisers about protecting the principle of
commercial freedom of speech for all freely available products?
CS: We believe in commercial freedom of speech but we make an exception
for tobacco ads for public health reasons. There are other aspects of
decent behaviour, such as not inciting racial hatred, which are part of
the laws of the land and have to be observed by people making TV
But, beyond that, I don’t see any reason to put in special provisions,
unless at some stage we discovered that some particular product was even
more harmful to public health than tobacco and we might want to take
But I don’t envisage that happening and I see no reason at present to
widen the prohibitions we have in place.
Everyone wants to see advertisers acting responsibly and not taking
undue advantage of the public in the material they put out. But, on the
whole, I think the ad industry acts responsibly. We much prefer to see
these matters handled by means of self-regulation rather than the
Government coming along in heavy boots and saying ’Thou shalt
AB: You’ve talked in the past about the need for regulatory change in
the broadcasting industry, both to promote competition and to protect
consumers. How satisfied is the Government with the current regulatory
structures and codes regarding advertising?
CS: The current codes seem to work reasonably well and I don’t have any
particular proposals. And I’m not aware of my colleagues in the
Department of Trade and Industry having plans to make particularly
Obviously, the broader regulatory environment for broadcasting is bound
to change over time, simply because the technology is moving so
Also, the world’s broadcasting, telecomms and computing industries are
merging so rapidly that it’s going to be necessary to change the
It has to be done with a ’lighter touch’ than has been used in the
We are proposing to issue a consultation paper in the next few months,
setting out some questions we think need to be addressed as we move into
the digital multi-channel age.
The world of advertising will change along with the technology for
development of interactive activity through TV. For example, it’s going
to make profound changes to the way in which advertisers relate to their
public. We’re going to have to watch carefully that this doesn’t lead to
But, at present, I don’t see any need to make changes just for the sake
AB: We all want a competitive single market in Europe for commercial
communications, but we’re still a long way from achieving it. There are
substantial barriers to trade within individual member states. What is
the view and likely action of the UK Government to the European
Commission’s refusal to rule on a number of long-outstanding cases
against member states? I refer specifically to the Greek ban on toy
advertising to children and the French Loi Evin which bans alcohol
CS: These are things we would like to proceed by agreement across the
whole of Europe if we possibly can. We would wish to act by persuasion
with partner governments in the European Union to see if we can get
changes over time. It’s not going to happen overnight but I think that
proceeding by persuasion rather than trying to invoke competition
procedures through formal EU proceedings is probably more likely to have
success in the long run.
AB: But the UK Government has historically been quite robust in its
opposition to those infringements.
CS: And we will continue to be so. We do not believe that exceptions of
this kind to the single market are necessarily beneficial. We will
continue to argue that case. We need to identify the most effective way
of getting the result we all wish, which is genuine freedom across the
whole of the EU. That is probably best obtained by exercising strong
AB: Concerns are being expressed in Europe about the effects of TV
advertising on children and the European Commission plans to study its
effects. Will the Government continue to defend the link between
advertising revenue and reinvestment in British and European children’s
CS: Yes, because we recognise the support from advertising that is
geared to the needs and wishes of children. We understand the link
between revenue derived from advertising of that kind and support for
children’s programming in the broader channels that will be available. I
think we want to make the most of that. If we cut off advertising that’s
primarily geared to the needs of children, we’re going to cut off the
lifeblood of much of children’s programming. It’s not something I would
want to do.
AB: The UK commercial broadcasting industry is the most established in
Europe and, many would claim, the most successful. Over the past 40
years, the UK ad industry has established a worldwide reputation as a
centre of creative excellence as well. Also, its approval ratings among
the population have never been higher. But some member states are much
They are younger - in a commercial broadcasting sense - and of a more
interventionist stance. Can the UK ad industry continue to rely on what
has been historically a ’light touch’ in the way it is regulated?
CS: Yes. We need protection in place against gross exploitation. But the
self-regulatory measures that have been in place through the Advertising
Standards Authority for many years now have, on the whole, worked
It’s meant that we have advertising that is broadly decent, truthful and
honest and, at the same time, effective. That, I think, is the best way
to have it. If it ain’t broke, don’t set about fixing it.