On the grog: ASA panel to review code of alcohol advertising

The recent Law Commission report Alcohol in Our Lives: Curbing the Harm, made 153 recommendations to the National government. Some of those suggestions have formed the basis of the Alcohol Reform bill. And, now that the government’s position on booze has been clarified somewhat, the Advertising Standards Authority has decided the time is right to establish an independent panel to review the Code for Advertising Liquor. 

Hilary Souter, chief executive of the ASA, says it regularly reviews the codes and was meant to do so in 2008, but has waited until now to get a clearer impression of where the government was going to go with its legislation.

“The timing is quite useful… [The panel] will take into account any law changes that will happen as a result [of the Alcohol Reform bill, which is currently accepting public submissions].”

The main question the review will attempt to answer, she says, is whether the content of the code still accurately reflects the issues and concerns of the industry and the public.

“Everything is up for discussion. It’s totally open slather about what might change,” she says.

For example, Souter points to the rule around not showing “excessive masculinity” in alcohol advertising. When beer is primarily consumed by men, is this a major concern (and, given the recent spate of man-heavy beer ads, where does that line get drawn)?

She (and AJ Park’s Dan Winfield) says the rules around alcohol advertising look likely to be tightened, particularly around appealing to minors and discounting (for example, if the bill goes through, no product with a discount of more than 25 percent will be able to be advertised).

Souter believes self-regulation does work and feels the industry takes its responsibilities seriously, as evidenced by the use of the pre-vetting system and the prompt responses companies make when complaints are upheld. Of 1339 complaints about 829 ads last year, Souter says 78 were for liquor ads, which was a significant increase on the previous year. Of those, 36 went to the complaints board and 16 were upheld. Many of the complaints dealt with issues outside their remit, like discounting, she says.

The review panel will be chaired by former Court of Appeal Judge, Hon. Sir Bruce Robertson, and contains a mix of public and industry members, including Val Sim, barrister and former law commissioner, nominated by the Alcohol Advisory Council; Dr Mark Jacobs, director of public health, nominated by the Ministry of Health; Paul France, director, nominated by the Broadcasting Standards Authority; Jenny Robson, public member and chairman, Advertising Standards Complaints Board; Rick Friesen; industry member representing the media; and Sonya Crosby, industry member representing advertisers and agencies.

“The panel brings together individuals with backgrounds well-suited to a robust and focused review the Code for Advertising Liquor,” says Souter.

The review includes a public consultation process, with a closing date for submissions of 25 February 2011. Submitters may request to be heard by the panel. A consultation booklet is available on the ASA website and will be sent to interested parties and advertisements inviting submissions will also be published in the coming weeks.

The panel is expected to report its findings to the ASA in September 2011.

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