Jowell performs U-turn about children's food ad ban

LONDON - Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, this week softened her hard-line stance on the promotion of junk food to children by backing away from a TV ad ban, in a speech delivered at ISBA's annual conference yesterday.

Instead, she indicated that she was ready to let Ofcom decide if the current rules were adequate in the light of rocketing levels of obesity among Britain's children. But she warned: "The industry has to show it can keep its own house in order."

Jowell's more moderate approach will not only cheer industry leaders but brings her more closely into line with John Reid, the health secretary. He believes an advertising ban would leave Labour vulnerable to the charge of creating a "nanny state".

She added: "Many of those who shout the loudest for an advertising ban also demand high-quality children's programming -- which is, of course, largely paid for by food advertising. So there are no quick wins here and no easy answers."

She acknowledged that government intervention was "not necessarily the silver bullet it is imagined to be" but told the industry: "You can't afford to stand still."

She said: "The danger is that the argument is won by default by those who call for an outright advertising ban."

ITV Broadcasting's chief executive, Mick Desmond, used his platform at the conference to claim the ITV merger had enabled the broadcaster to turn an important corner.

He added that the growth of digital TV and the predicted switch-off of analogue in 2010 did not pose a threat, but provided opportunities for ITV.

As well as the creation of complementary digital channels that allow brand extensions, ITV would aim to exploit interactive advertising.

Lord Bell, the chairman of Chime Communications, backed David Elstein's recent recommendations for the future of the BBC. He said the Government should replace the BBC with a new public service broadcasting authority, to be funded by the Treasury.

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