STOCKHOLM - Sweden will push for a Europe-wide ban on TV commercials that target children, at a two-day EU seminar opening here Monday, a move that has the advertising industry shuddering at the potential revenue losses.
Swedish Culture Minister Marita Ulvskog, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, is expected to brief participants on Sweden's 10-year-old ban on television advertising directed at the under-12s.
More than 200 delegates from European ministries, authorities and media branches will attend the the Stockholm meeting, entitled "Children and Young People in the New Media Landscape".
"All the studies show that, under a given age, children do not understand what the purpose of advertising is. They simply cannot see the difference between a spot and a regular program," says Lars Maren, a media expert at the Swedish culture ministry.
Maren says the ban was instituted in order to control what children are seeing when they watch television, which, in Sweden, they do for an average of two hours a day.
"The law is there to protect them," he said.
But, says communications professor Erling Bjurstroem, "in reality, Sweden's ban hasn't worked completely."
While the state-run television channels SVT1 and TV2 and semi-public channel TV4 do not broadcast commercials aimed at children, "the two major private networks, TV3 and Kanal 5, use a loophole in the law" and broadcast by satellite from Britain.
"And the (Swedish) government can't do anything about it."
That has led some in the advertising industry to accuse the Swedish government of seeking a Europe-wide ban in order to plug up the shortcomings of its own legislation. If such a ban were instituted, TV3 and Kanal 5 would no longer be able to circumvent the law by broadcasting from Britain.
Advertisers fear a restriction would put an abrupt end to a flourishing market. According to the European Group of Television Advertising (EGTA), the commercials-for-kids market is worth 31 billion euros (29 billion dollars) a year.
In a recent report, the EGTA said a ban "would cause heavy losses to the TV stations."
"Therefore, they would either find a new financing source or produce less original material and import cheap non-European children's programs, or cut down or even stop producing kids' shows," it said.
Another study commissioned by the Advertising Education Forum (AEF), a European association of advertisers and media agencies, questioned 5,000 families in 20 countries and found that 86 percent of parents did not rank commercials among the top five factors likely to influence their children.
Copyright © 2001 AFP