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Debate: Ban on advertising targeting children

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Should there be a ban on television advertisements aimed at children?

Background and context

A great deal of advertising on television is aimed at children, promoting not only toys and sweets but also products such as food, drink, music, films and clothing to young consumers from toddlers to teenagers. Increasingly this practice is coming under attack from parents’ organisations, politicians and pressure groups in many countries. Sweden, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Denmark and Belgium all currently impose restrictions, and these have also been proposed in most other EU countries and in the USA. Within Europe, the forthcoming EU Television Without Frontiers Directive, due to be issued by 2004, is likely to focus attention upon the issue as the advertising industry and anti-advertising groups battle over whether age restrictions should be imposed upon the whole EU in the future. A key factor in any debate will be the age definition of “children”. Recent campaigns in the USA and Britain have concentrated upon banning advertising to under-fives watching "toddler-television", but a Swedish proposal for an EU-wide ban applies to under-12s (a definition which might produce a livelier and more focused debate).

Contents

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Products: Do ads to children foster a "must-have" mentality?

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Yes

  • Ads cause children to beg for products; harms child-parent relations. Advertising specifically to children is unethical because they have little or no money of their own and have to persuade their parents to buy the products for them. Rather than advertising directly to parents, companies use a "nag and whine" campaign that leads to bad feeling between parents and children. They rely on pester power to make adults spend money they don’t have on things they don’t want to buy, and which their children may well only play with for a few hours.
  • Ads for "must-have" products alienates children that "can't have". Advertising which presents products to children as "must-have" is also socially divisive, making children whose parents cannot afford them appear inferior, and creating feelings of frustration and inadequacy, as well as leading families into debt.


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No

  • Banning ads shirks the individual responsibility of children and parents. Advertising has no magical power to create unnatural desires for material possessions. Children who nag are simply badly brought up. Poor parenting and undisciplined children cannot be solved by banning advertising, as children have many influences upon them which can stimulate their desires for toys, etc., particularly their friends. It is also untrue that children have no spending power of their own; many children under 12 receive pocket money and teenagers are often able to earn a little themselves. Learning to manage money is part of growing up, and advertisements help them to choose what they would like to save up for.


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Social: Do TV ads targeting children have negative social consequences?

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Yes

  • Advertising aimed at children brings negative social consequences. Much of it is for food and drinks that are very unhealthy. Encouraging gullible children to consume so much fatty, sugary and salty food is unethical because it creates obese, unhealthy youngsters, with bad eating habits that will be with them for life. Society also has to pay a high price in terms of the extra medical care such children will eventually require, so the government has a direct interest in preventing advertisements which contribute to this problem.


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No

  • Children naturally like foods that are rich in fats, proteins and sugar. They give them the energy they need to play energetically and grow healthily. It is true that eating only such foods is bad for people, but this is again a problem of bad parenting rather than the fault of advertising. And of course, if advertising to children were banned, then governments would not be able to use this means of promoting healthy eating, road safety, hygiene, and other socially useful messages.


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Argument #4

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Yes

This measure stands alone but has a good precedent in the restrictions placed in most countries upon advertising tobacco and alcohol. It also takes a stand against increasingly exploitative marketing campaigns that ruthlessly target children. In the USA marketing companies are already offering schools free televisions in exchange for their students being forced to watch a certain amount of programming and advertisements each day, and selling marketing data on those children. It is time that childhood was protected from such commercialisation.


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No

This measure sets a bad precedent which is likely to result in ever more restrictions upon the freedom of expression. Children watch many programmes that adults also enjoy, and some adults are also particularly suggestible; should we then extend this ban to all television advertising. And why stop at television when children are also exposed to radio, cinema, the internet and billboards in the street as well? Perhaps companies should also be banned from sponsoring entertainment and sporting events for children, and prevented from providing free branded resources for schools. On the other hand, any restrictions will be impossible to enforce as television is increasingly broadcast by satellite across national borders and cannot easily be controlled - nor can the internet.


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Argument #5

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Yes

Exploitative advertising brainwashes children into becoming eager consumers and capitalists. Multinational companies deliberately encourage them to be materialistic so that they associate happiness with purchasing power and the possession of particular goods. A study recently found that children in Sweden, where marketing campaigns to the under-12s are banned, wanted significantly fewer toys than children in Britain, where there are no restrictions.

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No

Banning advertisements is a severe restriction upon freedom of speech. Companies should be able to tell the public about any legal products, or innovation will be restricted and new companies will find it hard to market their products successfully in the face of established rivals. Children also have a human right to receive information from a wide range of sources and make up their own minds about it. They are far from being brainwashed by advertisements, which form only a small part of their experiences; family, friends, school and other television programmes are much more important and all give them alternative views of the world.

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Pro/con resources

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Yes

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No


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Argument #6

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Yes

Broadcasting is increasingly diverse, with state-funded, commercial and subscription channels all available in most countries. Restricting advertising a little will not make much difference to revenues of commercial broadcasters, and they can be regulated to ensure that they continue to offer a good standard of children’s programming. Programme quality is likely to improve as much children’s television these days involves considerable product-placement and advertising tie-ins, which result in poor programmes and unimaginative formats.

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No

Advertisements are the means by which most television stations are funded. If advertising to children is banned, then broadcasters will stop showing children’s programmes, or greatly reduce their quality and quantity, which is clearly not in the public interest. State broadcasters funded by a license fee, such as the UK’s BBC, and specialist subscription channels that are also not dependent upon advertising revenue would both welcome restrictions upon the ability of commercial broadcasters to compete with them in children’s programming. As competition is the best means of improving choice, diversity and quality, their lobbying on this issue should be disregarded. Nor does advertising only benefit commercial broadcasters, consumers also benefit. Greece has banned advertising of toys, and this has led to a more limited selection of toys being sold in Greece. Children’s magazines rely upon advertising to be affordable - logically under this proposal they should be prevented from doing so, and so effectively shut down.


Motions:

  • This House would ban television advertising to children
  • This House would restrict advertising aimed at children
  • This House would protect children
  • This House believes children have a right to their childhood
  • That advertisements deliberately targetted at children should be more strictly regulated

In legislation, policy, and the real world:

See also

External links and resources:

Books:

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