Alcohol watershed proposal won’t work, advertisers claim

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From The Irish Times

RTÉ says 9pm rule would damage Irish media sector

A proposal to impose a 9pm watershed on alcohol advertising on television and radio is “full of contradictions” and if implemented would leave the Irish media sector at a competitive disadvantage, according to advertisers and broadcasters.

Drinks companies, the wider advertising sector, and media owners including  RTÉ  are concerned that measures due to be put forward by Minister of State for Health  Alex White  will include legislating for a watershed, after a ban on advertising alcohol after 9pm was recommended in the report of the  National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group  last year.

“The problem with watersheds is that they would only apply to Irish media,” said  Paul Mulligan, head of operations at RTÉ Television. “But a large proportion of the television consumed in  Ireland  is not generated in this marketplace. While the intention is laudable, unless there is European legislation you cannot control the media.”

Drinks advertisers would simply find other ways to reach consumers, he said. At present, the only time-related restriction on alcohol advertising is a voluntary agreement by media owners not to broadcast alcohol ads during breakfast time, which is defined as 6am-10am.

Another voluntary rule, agreed with the  Department of Health  and overseen by the Alcohol Marketing Communications Monitoring Body, specifies that alcohol advertising is only permitted where at least 75 per cent of the audience profile is over 18, regardless of what time the programme is shown at. “That is fair and that is enforced,” said Ed McDonald, chief executive of the Association of Advertisers in Ireland. Mr McDonald said the watershed proposal, while well-intended, was “full of contradictions” in an age of digital, global media.

“In theory, if you brought in this rule, you could put alcohol in the  Late Late Toy Show  breaks. Now we would never put alcohol ads in the  Late Late Toy Show  ,” Mr Mulligan said.

Jean Doyle  from the Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland (ABFI) said watersheds were also a crude mechanism because under-18s were part of the core audience for many radio shows broadcast after 9pm, meaning they would be exposed to alcohol advertisements under a watershed that they would not hear under the existing 75 per cent rule.

Television habits such as multi-room and catch-up viewing also suggested a watershed would not be effective, she added. “Even if the programme originally went out at 9pm, what time will it be watched at?”

Ms Doyle  said the industry had been waiting on the Department of Health to update its voluntary code, last changed in 2008, to include digital marketing of alcohol. The ABFI, which is holding a training event on responsible digital marketing of alcohol in Dublin today, believes cross-industry adherence to a refreshed voluntary code is a more effective way forward than legislation.

Alcohol advertisements in Ireland must be vetted by Central Copy Clearance Ireland before they are broadcast or published, and nine out of every 10 ads submitted are ultimately approved. “People are very careful about it, because they don’t want to be found in breach,” Ms Doyle said.

Both the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland also operate codes of practice on alcohol marketing, with the BAI code prohibiting the advertising on television and radio of spirits and alcopops.