Editorial: There is nothing to gain by curbing alcohol ads

MPs thinking of joining the clamour for a 9pm watershed for alcohol advertising should take a look at what's happening to children's TV before demanding more knee-jerk regulation. Starved of £30 million worth of revenue because of the ban on snack-food and drinks advertising, children's TV is already said to be in crisis. ITV has scrapped new commissions and cheap imports threaten to fill the void.

The implications are profound and well summed-up by Floella Benjamin, the former Play School presenter. She told the Social Market Foundation that the dumbing-down of children's programming is threatening to stifle young minds, rather than stimulate them.

What makes matters worse is that the Ofcom ban on TV food and drinks advertising to children is shot through with absurdities and anomalies. The fact is that obesity and binge drinking are the result of a complex range of social issues. The junk-food ad rules already threaten to erode advertising freedoms for questionable gain. Further restrictions on alcohol advertising threaten to do likewise.

The rules governing the promotion of alcohol on TV are among the toughest in the world. In fact, the BACC, accused of being too laissez-faire about drinks ads in the past, is now seen as over-zealous in what it will and will not allow.

MPs, and the pressure groups backing them, are deluding themselves if they really believe that a 9pm watershed will make any significant difference to alcohol consumption among teens and twentysomethings.

Forcing ITV to produce higher-quality children's programmes, as some pressure groups have suggested, isn't the answer. The cash would have to be come from somewhere, and that would only mean more corner-cutting. How much worse would that corner-cutting have to be if the screw was to be tightened even further on alcohol advertising - and for such little gain?