Ofcom urged to pass junk food enquiry to consultant

Media regulator Ofcom has been urged to hand over its consultation on the future of food and drink advertising to children to an independent adviser.

Broadcast lobby group Public Voice believes the watchdog will otherwise become embroiled in a bitter battle between campaigners proposing stringent rules and broadcasters safeguarding both commercial and public service interests.

The voluntary sector coalition has asked Ofcom to appoint an experienced independent consultant to analyse and evaluate consultation responses and to publish its report. By doing so, Ofcom would be acting “transparently”, it says.

Co-ordinator Don Redding says: “Whatever Ofcom decides, it will be in a bind because whatever conclusion it reaches at the end of the consultation could lead to calls that evidence has potentially been skewed in one direction or another.”

He adds: “Independent analysis does not mean there would be a formal conclusion, but it means the process would be transparent.”

Redding further points to the Government, which appointed independent consultants ahead of publishing its Green Paper on the future of the BBC last year.

The consultation period had to be extended until Friday following a raft of interest in Ofcom’s proposals. Last week industry bodies handed the regulator an alternative to the three choices it set forth at the beginning of the process, and figureheads including C4 chief executive Andy Duncan wrote to Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport Tessa Jowell outlining their positions.

The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers this week also outlined its views, after bringing together 25 senior representatives through a food and drink working group. It recommends the complete withdrawal of all food and drink advertising on main general entertainment channels during children’s programming and placing a limit of 30 to 60 seconds of food and drink advertising per hour on dedicated children’s channels.

Health campaigners including the British Medial Association and Sustain support a ban on food and drink advertising during all programming before the 9pm watershed, a position Ofcom is willing to consider but believes is “disproportionate”.

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