Loophole can undermine countries’ tougher alcohol marketing laws – EURACTIV.com

A flaw in the The European Audiovisual Media Services Directive (SMASD) could undermine Efforts by EU countries to impose tougher rules on alcohol advertising threaten a key goal of Europe’s cancer plan.

One of the aims of the European plan to fight against cancer is to reduce alcohol consumption among young people by limiting their exposure to online marketing of alcoholic drinks, an objective which the plan aims to achieve by monitoring the implementation of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive.

However, a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report on the regulation of cross-border alcohol marketing highlights some gaps and weaknesses in the AVMS Directive, which could undermine the efforts of countries that want stricter rules. .

The “country of origin” loophole

The “country of origin principle” is the “cornerstone” of the AVMS Directive, a European Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV.

This principle is found in Article 3(1) of the AVMS Directive, which states that EU countries must guarantee “freedom of reception and must not restrict retransmissions on their territory of audiovisual media services originating other Member States”.

However, the WHO report highlights how it provides the ability to circumvent stricter national laws, by broadcasting from a different jurisdiction.

Sweden is a good example. For years, the principle has allowed two UK-based broadcasting companies – but broadcasting in Swedish, to Sweden – to broadcast adverts which, if produced on Swedish soil, would not exceed regulations more strict rules of the Nordic country on the marketing of alcohol.

The Commission ruled in 2018 that Sweden could not take legal action against the broadcasting companies, dismissing the claim that the broadcasters had strategically established themselves in the UK in order to circumvent Sweden’s stricter rules on advertising. for alcohol.

Asked about the issue by EURACTIV, a Commission spokesman hailed the country of origin rule for having “guaranteed the freedom of cross-border reception and retransmission of audiovisual media services within the EU”, which “has benefited EU businesses and consumers”.

EU goes easy on alcohol in cancer plan

Alcoholic beverages have been treated differently from tobacco products in the EU’s Beating Cancer plan because overconsumption, not consumption, will be targeted by Commission initiatives.

No revisions in sight

In the Swedish case, following the UK’s exit from the EU, broadcasters were forced to return to Sweden.

However, the loophole is still there and the Commission does not plan to make any revisions in the near future.

“At this stage, the Commission’s priority is to ensure that all Member States complete the transposition of the AVMS Directive into national law, as well as to carry out a thorough assessment of how the new rules have been implemented. implemented in member states,” the spokesperson said, referring to recent amendments to the directive. “Therefore, it is too early to discuss a possible future revision of the AVMSD.”

The AVMSD has its own rules to ensure that advertisements for alcoholic beverages are not directed at minors. It states that it encourages the development of co-regulation and self-regulation of “inappropriate audiovisual commercial communications for alcoholic beverages” – the so-called “codes of conduct” – adding that any television advertising for alcohol must also respect some basic principles, including not “present[ing] abstinence or moderation in a negative light.

According to the WHO report, however, these standards have been criticized for both their lack of detail and their narrow focus on restricting advertising to minors. This “misses the issue of alcohol marketing that is not directed at minors but is nonetheless appealing to them and likely to influence them,” the report reads.

“The AVMS Directive has strengthened the provisions aimed at effectively reducing the exposure of children and minors to audiovisual commercial communications for alcoholic beverages, and therefore it brings significant benefits through the new rules themselves, the extension new rules and encouraging the adoption of codes of conduct,” the spokesperson said.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]