Editorial: ASA boss at risk of being binge-drinking 'fall Guy'

The Glorious Twelfth may still be a few weeks away, but MPs have already declared open season on the Advertising Standards Authority.

Members of the Commons Health Committee let the ASA have it with both barrels last week, declaring that alcohol ad rules are too lax and that banning booze ads would help curtail binge-drinking. Leaving aside the fact that it ill-behoves a bunch of MPs to take pot shots at advertising's self-regulation system when their own is so full of holes, it's worth reminding them of a few basic points.

It wasn't the ad industry that gave the green light to round-the-clock drinking. Nor is it advertising that's responsible for the flood of cheaply available alcohol; for "happy hours", where drink is available at knock-down prices; and giant bars, where teens and twentysomethings can drink until they drop. The trouble is that this is an argument the ASA can never win so long as MPs see advertising as easy meat - and there's little sign of them backing off.

The truth is that there will always be a hard core of MPs wanting to ban ads, be they for alcohol or snack foods. What's more, the next General Election is bound to result in a large influx of new MPs to whom the ASA's case will need to be made all over again.

This, though, will be just one of the challenges facing the ASA in the coming months. Complaints to the watchdog are expected to hit record levels this year, albeit about fewer numbers of campaigns. This is mainly because the ASA has made it easier for people to register their protests. However, you can bet it won't stop politicians demanding that advertisers are brought to heel.

Meanwhile, there's the problem of how the ASA's expanding remit can be funded given the pressure that reduced adspend is having on the Advertising Standards Board of Finance levy. So good luck to Guy Parker, the ASA's new chief executive. He'll need it.