Children at risk as alcohol and gambling get free kick in new television code

Public health experts have slammed the Australian Communications and Media Authority for failing to close a loophole allowing alcohol and gambling ads to be shown during sporting events. Photo: Andrew ChapmanThe federal government’s media watchdog has been accused of failing to protect children after it refused to close a loophole that allows alcohol and gambling companies to advertise in peak children’s viewing hours during sporting events.

Public health groups say the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s revised television code of practice is a “charade” and has given the alcohol and gambling industries greater reach to target children.

As a “community safeguard” the authority bans the promotion of alcohol before 8:30pm and heavily restricts the airing of betting ads. But live sporting telecasts are exempt from the ban.

Health experts lobbied to close the loophole, arguing that hundreds of thousands of children tune into sports such as AFL, NRL and cricket, and that heavy exposure to advertising increases the chances of underage drinking and gambling.

But the submissions were rejected and in a revised code introduced this month the exemption was broadened beyond live matches, allowing alcohol advertising during repeat broadcasts.

“It’s simply nonsense to assert that the new code contains appropriate community safeguards – that’s exactly what it lacks. At a time when there is so much public concern about alcohol and young people, it is amazing that ACMA have even allowed the alcohol industry more opportunities to expose kids to their marketing,” said Mike Daube, director of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth.

“The people at ACMA seem to be living in a parallel universe where children and young people don’t watch TV and the evidence can be ignored.”

ACMA did not respond to requests for an interview but in a letter to Mr Daube explaining their decision, chairman Chris Chapman said that under the Broadcasting Services Act it is required that “public interest considerations be addressed in a way that does not impose unnecessary financial and administrative burdens on broadcasters”.

Television networks and major sporting codes rely heavily on money from alcohol and gambling advertising.

Mr Chapman has previously said the gambling restriction under the television code “is not relevant to sport.”

However, Associate Professor Samantha Thomas, a gambling expert from Deakin University, said their research showed that saturation of alcohol and gambling promotions during sporting broadcasts led to children normalising betting.

“Parents are often surprised by how much children remember from these adverts in the sports they love. They’re more likely to be aware of cash-back offers and incentives within ads whereas parents will know the brand names but won’t give you descriptions,” she said.

“Kids also talk a lot about gambling marketing that’s reliant on spontaneous events within matches, like scoring of tries, so they align the ad with that really positive emotive feeling.”

Peter Gordon, president of the Western Bulldogs – one of the few clubs that has pledged not to take sponsorship from betting agencies – said vulnerable groups must be protected.

“I’m concerned and I know that a number of people that I speak to in the AFL industry are about children and young teenagers and those who may have an addiction or a socioeconomic disadvantage linked to the overuse of gambling, and also the players themselves,” he said.

“If there’s clear evidence that these practices (advertising in sport) are putting kids at risk then we shouldn’t be afraid to address that, including by regulation if the industry’s not prepared to regulate itself.”

Michael Moore, chief executive of the Public Health Association said the government should be breaking the nexus between a healthy activity such as sport and products that cause significant harm. There’s no justification for this exemption at all.”

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