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Proposed Ont. ad ban 'unrealistic': media observers
TORONTO - A proposal to ban all television advertising of food and drinks to children under 13 in Ontario is unrealistic in the Internet age and governments should instead concentrate on better educating both parents and children about commercials, advertisers and media observers said Monday.
Quebec has had a similar, and more far reaching, ban on all advertising aimed at children for 25 years but studies suggest the impact is reduced in homes that have cable television bringing in media from other provinces and countries.
The proposed private member's bill in Ontario, introduced Monday, would be even less effective in today's wired world and children need to be taught to be more media savvy, said Jane Tallim, co-executive director of the Ottawa-based Media Awareness Network.
"TV tends to be quite a passive medium. The child watches an engaging commercial and it might encourage them to ask for a particular product," Tallim said in an interview.
"But on the Internet, you have marketers building whole environments that kids become immersed in and that's much more powerful in building brand identity and brand loyalty."
The Media Awareness Network has a game on its website that helps children learn about advertising and how companies target them, and Tallim said that's a more effective approach than trying to implement a ban that just wouldn't work.
The Concerned Children's Advertisers - which represents 16 major food and beverage companies including General Mills, Kellogg's, Kraft, Coca Cola and Pepsico - said Monday that the ban on advertising directed at children in Quebec has not lowered child obesity rates.
The children's advertisers have adopted a new code in which some members will stop making commercials aimed at children under 12, cartoon characters will no longer be used to promote fast foods, and companies will use ads to promote healthier food choices and a more active lifestyle.
"I think that's where advertising can play such a powerful role in promoting healthy active living messages and hopefully helping to shift societal norm for kids," said executive director Diana Carradine.
"They are beginning to look at restricting the use of third-party licensed characters, (so they) are only for use in products that are healthier for you."
Chris Glover, a Toronto father of two young children, said it's hard enough to teach his kids healthy eating habits without being undermined by commercials that drive home the exact opposite message.
"What I don't need is somebody working against me, I don't need somebody promoting these things to them all the time when they're watching TV," said Glover.
Ontario New Democrat Rosario Marchese said Monday that his bill was needed to help Ontario parents like Glover counter the impact of marketing specifically designed to lure children to unhealthy fast foods and sugar-laced colas and other drinks with little or no nutritional value.
"We are losing the battle against child obesity," said Marchese.
"We know that marketers spend a great deal of money to influence kids' choices. This is one step that we can take to help children acquire healthy habits and remain healthy for a lifetime."
Former Toronto school trustee Fiona Nelson said Monday she too supports the idea of a ban on television advertising of food and drinks to children under 13, noting she never sees commercials aimed at kids that promote the benefits of carrots or pears.
"It worries me very much that children are being indoctrinated long before they're of an age to make decisions based on reality and on the future," said Nelson.
"It seems to me that interfering in the decision making and rights of parents in this subversive way, is something that we've got to be conscious of."
Marchese's legislation was introduced Monday for first reading, and even though private member's bills rarely become law in Ontario, the veteran New Democrat insisted some government action was needed to protect children from commercials aimed directly at them.
"Some children's advertisers claim that you can't put a fence around the ocean to protect children. We're not trying to put a fence around the ocean," said Marchese.
"We're simply putting lifeguards on the beach where our children are just learning to swim."