EDITORIAL: Triumph for sense over Ofcom panel

The ad industry's success in persuading the House of Lords to limit consumers' power to regulate TV and radio commercials is bound to be interpreted in some quarters as an attempt to muzzle public criticism of its activities. No doubt much of that criticism will come from single-issue pressure groups with personal agendas to pursue and big axes to grind.

The bigger, more mature consumer bodies will see it as a victory for common sense and the removal of a threat to a self-regulatory system that ain't broke and doesn't need fixing.

The last thing the industry needs at the moment is to be forced to defend itself with one hand tied behind its back. Particularly now that some activists have declared open season on it for what is seen is its culpability in fuelling alcohol consumption and obesity among children. Little matter that the school run has changed a generation of children from walkers into passengers.

Or that 10,000 school playing fields have been sold in the past 20 years.

So it's good news the Lords has accepted an amendment to the Communications Bill preventing the Ofcom consumer panel influencing advertising content and that the Government is now unlikely to press for the panel to have such power when the Bill becomes law.

Industry leaders had been rightly sceptical of Government assurances that the consumer panel would only have been invited to intervene on content when Ofcom invited it to do so. What would have stopped the panel speaking out over what it perceived to be misleading advertising when it wasn't entitled to do so?

That's not to say the industry shouldn't redouble its efforts for rapprochement with consumer representatives. Advertising can only be effective if it retains public credibility. Moreover, the proliferation of media has increased the need for advertisers and their agencies to remain in tune with changing attitudes and tastes.

For adland, the task is now to separate the groups that are representative of legitimate consumer stakeholders from the one-man-and-a-dog, single-issue activists who often generate far more heat than light. Consumerism is on the march, not just in the UK but globally. You only have to look at the massive expansion during the past four years of the European Commission directorate responsible for protecting consumer interests to see how potent consumer power has become.

All the more reason why the industry must reach out to the moderate consumer movement representatives. Greater understanding is in everybody's best interests.