EDITORIAL: Common sense is the best argument

The European Union has just poured more than 18 months of effort

and considerable resources into finding out what any decent researchers

could have concluded in a morning's work. Namely, that further

restrictions on advertising to children are unnecessary.

Indeed, the best that can be said about the 1,000-plus pages of analysis

spewed out last week by the EU Directorate-General for Education and

Culture, is that it's weighty enough to sink a Swedish plan to extend

its national ban on children's TV advertising across Europe.

Realistically, Sweden's chances of using its six-month EU presidency to

railroad through such a contentious piece of legislation were always

slim. And when Viviane Reding, the EU Commission member responsible for

education and culture, declared her opposition to a ban, the coup de

grace was delivered.

As a result, Sweden is now on the back foot. Where once it evangelised

the moral argument for an EU-wide ban, it must now defend the case for

maintaining its own restrictions when they are a clear impediment to the

creation of a true European single market.

This isn't to say the debate about advertising and its effect on

children is not an entirely valid one. It's just that the EU seems to

have taken a sledgehammer to crack a nut - only to find the nut had no

need to be hit in the first place.

Yet, despite the tortuous route adopted by the EU in reaching its

conclusion, the outcome is an excellent one for Europe's advertising

industry and may prove a defining moment in the way it defends its

interests in future.

What distinguishes this campaign from others is that the industry did

more than merely hurl back the mud thrown at it by its opponents. In

confronting an emotive issue that polarises opinion, lobbyists wisely

concentrated on taking the heat out of the debate and building a body of

research to counter the perpetual charge against them that 'they would

say that, wouldn't they?'.

Not only did they present a compelling case, arguing that a ban would

force the abandonment of quality children's programming in favour of

imported pap, but they succeeded in convincing EU politicians and


Not that this victory should breed complacency. While the threat of an

EU-wide ban may have subsided, Britain's Food Standards Agency has made

little secret of its wish for further restrictions. One more reason why

the self-regulatory system needs ongoing support from within if it is to

retain respect and confidence from without.


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