avmsd draft European news portal Euractiv.com last week obtained a leaked draft proposal of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD), which regulates broadcast and on demand media at the European level. As hoped by many health scientists and NGOs, the proposal underscores the importance of protecting young people against harmful media content, including alcohol advertising. However, worries arise over a proposed stronger reliance on self- and co-regulation of the industry. While the leaked document has stirred media reactions especially concerning a European content tax (nonlinear media providers such as Netflix and ITunes, would be subjected to a tax, from which new European media productions would be funded); a requirement for nonlinear media services to have at least 20% of their programming to be original European content; as well as a relaxation of television advertising times; less fuss is made about what the draft proposal says about the protection of minors against advertisements for salty, fatty, sugary, and alcohol products. So, what does the draft say about alcohol?
Alcohol will be added to 9 paragraph 4: ‘Member States and the Commission shall encourage the development of self-an co-regulatory codes of conduct regarding inappropriate audiovisual communications for alcoholic beverages. Member States are encouraged to ensure that these codes are used to effectively limit the exposure of minors to audiovisual commercial communications for alcoholic beverages. These codes shall be in line with article 4.7 of this directive.
Later on in the proposal, in prefix 34 the example of a good practice is given in the form of including responsible drinking messages as per the code of conduct. This is an example, which has been criticized by scientists and NGOs, because in the hand of alcohol producers the responsible drinking message becomes part of the marketing effort (Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence). In the paragraph ‘the choice of the instrument’ the proposal describes why self- or co-regulation have been chosen. The document states that: ‘Such regimes are deemed to be broadly accepted by the main stakeholders and provide for effective enforcement.’ EUCAM would like to point out that in case of the alcohol industry and protection of public health, such schemes are actually proven not to be effective (IAS, Addiction Journal, WHO). Of further interest is that the proposed document will give member states more options to take action against violations of their media regulations from abroad targeted at their own population. For this, see prefix 19, 29 as well as article 4 and article 5 ter. While it is disappointing to learn that the proposal doesn’t go into detail on how to reduce youth exposure to alcohol advertising, EUCAM would like to point out that the leaked draft is likely incomplete as it does not address crucial articles on alcohol advertising from the current version of the AVMSD, namely:
* Article 9. Paragraph 1e: Member States shall ensure that audiovisual commercial communications provided by media service providers under their jurisdiction comply with the following requirements: audiovisual commercial communications for alcoholic beverages shall not be aimed specifically at minors and shall not encourage immoderate consumption of such beverages; * Article 22: Television advertising and teleshopping for alcoholic beverages shall comply with the following criteria: (a) it may not be aimed specifically at minors or, in particular, depict minors consuming these beverages; (b) it shall not link the consumption of alcohol to enhanced physical performance or to driving; (c) it shall not create the impression that the consumption of alcohol contributes towards social or sexual success; (d) it shall not claim that alcohol has therapeutic qualities or that it is a stimulant, a sedative or a means of resolving personal conflicts; (e) it shall not encourage immoderate consumption of alcohol or present abstinence or moderation in a negative light; (f) it shall not place emphasis on high alcoholic content as being a positive quality of the beverages.
Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Günther Oettinger on Monday the 23rd of May announced on Twitter: EUCAM will give updates on further news on amending the AVMSD as it becomes available. Source: EURActiv.com 05/18/16

Legal possibilities of a comprehensive alcohol advertising ban in Europe Econometric studies by Saffer and colleagues suggest that overall bans of alcohol marketing can be successful in decreasing the total alcohol consumption among adolescents. In accordance with this, in its European Action Plan (2011) the WHO recommends a total ban on alcohol advertising in Europe. The new factsheet describes the competence of the European Union to adopt a pan-European alcohol advertising ban and its legal possibilities.

The Fact Sheet concludes that a European ban is realistically achievable. Restricting the volume of alcohol advertising is one aspect of a comprehensive evidence-based alcohol policy to combat alcohol-related harm. Extensive alcohol advertising restrictions are already in place in some European countries (e.g. France, Norway and Sweden). A pan-European alcohol advertising ban is the next step in limiting the large volume of alcohol advertising in Europe, and is recommended by the World Health Organization. Existing European restrictions on advertising tobacco, gambling, and prescriptive drugs show that the EU is competent to protect its citizens by adopting extensive advertising bans. Such a ban, even when considered to be trade-distorting, can be justified on health grounds when the policy instrument proposed is seen as “proportionate” and “appropriate”. Alternatively, justification for an extensive advertising ban on economic grounds was given when an EU ban on tobacco advertising was introduced. By harmonizing volume restrictions of advertising on the internal market, distortions of tobacco advertising competition are aimed to be avoided. A similar approach can be taken by legislators who want to regulate alcohol adverting. Both the audio and the Powerpoint presentation of a short lecture on this topic by Wim van Dalen of STAP, the Dutch Institute for Alcohol Policy, are available on the website of EUROCARE.

The full fact sheet can be downloaded and read here