Junk food ad rules "not effective"

LONDON (Reuters) - Government rules to prevent adverts for junk food being aired during TV programmes watched by children are not working, consumer watchdog Which? said on Friday.

Chips are shown in a file image, October 3, 2007. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Under restrictions introduced in January, ads for food considered “less healthy” by the Food Standards Agency cannot be shown during or around shows with particular appeal to those under 16.

These are programmes where the proportion of youngsters watching is 20 percent higher than the general viewing population.

However, Which? said that none of the programmes with the highest child audiences was covered by the rules, and only four of the top 20 shows were included.

“The ad restrictions look good on paper but the reality is that the programmes most popular with children are slipping through the net,” said Which? food campaigner Clare Corbett.

“If these rules are going to be effective, then they have to apply to programmes that children watch in the greatest numbers.”

Under the measures introduced by communications regulator Ofcom, shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Spongebob Squarepants” are covered but “Beat the Star” and “Emmerdale” are not even though they attract more child viewers.

The Advertising Association said the report was “sensationalist, unconstructive and missing the point”.

“Their list includes programmes clearly not aimed at children and films screened after 10 p.m,” the Association’s chief executive Baroness Peta Buscombe was quoted as saying by the BBC.

“There clearly has to be an element of parental responsibility on which programmes they allow their children to view.”

Ofcom is currently reviewing the system and is due to release its findings in December 2008.

Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Steve Addison