A view from Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com

Editor's Perspective: Moving COI's ads to the BBC will not cure all ills

I remember a time, long ago, when the idea of moving government advertising on to the BBC was being discussed as a valve to take some of the inflation out of the television airtime market.

Back then, it was a highly contentious suggestion that found favour with few outside of ISBA. Now the issue is back on the agenda for very different reasons, and is likely to meet with rather more support, though not, of course, from the media industry.

Francis Maude reckons shifting some COI advertising on to the BBC could be a smart and cost-effective way of promoting key government social messages without the excruciating media costs attached.

In principle, it's an argument that's hard to fault. Why not use public broadcasting services to promote public-service messages? And in an atmosphere of austerity, saving a few million pounds in advertising airtime costs is utterly sensible, and far more so than simply not advertising at all.

The BBC is likely to argue that taking COI messages will compromise its "no advertising" principles. But these are principles that are already open to interpretation and, as long as the government advertising in question is clearly in the public's interest and cannot be accused of being party political, I can't see much room for argument from the BBC itself.

On the face of it, this is good news for creative agencies, too. The COI briefs will start coming in again and, though no-one expects the Government's advertising budget to return to the lush levels it reached under Labour, the BBC plan will help ease agencies' economic pain.

But the cost to commercial media channels cannot be ignored. Commercial media have also suffered significantly from the COI spending curbs and are hoping, with the rest of the ad industry, to see some of this money coming back from next spring. They are banking on it, in fact.

At its crudest level, less COI money for commercial media owners means less profit to invest in quality content, which means a less attractive advertising environment for other advertisers to enjoy. You can see the vicious circle.

It would be potentially damaging for other advertisers as well as media owners if commercial media lost out on COI budgets. Surely the Government should instead be looking at ways to add the leverage of the BBC to its activity on commercial channels to really drive home its public-service messages. It mustn't be a matter of either/or.

After all, the power of much government advertising to make a real difference - and help save money for, say, the NHS - is clear. The more opportunities the COI is given, including on the BBC, to get its messages across, the better.