Channel Regulation: Swedes Will Fight Children’s Advertising All The Way

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (NMM) (London, UK), November 30, 1995

The Swedish government is set to clamp down on satellite channels which carry advertising aimed at children and will tell channels to drop such advertising or face legal action. 

The centre-left government’s threat of tough action follows Sweden’s winning extra powers last week through an amendment to the European directive on transfrontier broadcasting agreed by European culture ministers (NMM 13:42). 

The main focus of the Swedish government’s wrath is the TV3 channel, owned by Kinnevik, which uplinks to the Astra 1a and Sirius satellites from the UK. TV3 based itself in the UK in order to benefit from the Independent Television Commission’s more liberal rules on advertising. 

TV3’s main commercial television rival, TV4, has long protested to the government about what it sees as unfair competition from TV3 and other foreign-based channels. 

The government will initially go after TV3 and the Luxembourg-based cable and satellite channel Femmen. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs said that pro-European satellite channels such as TNT/Cartoon Network and the Children’s Channel were lesser priorities, but could face action in the future. 

TNT/Cartoon Network has a Swedish soundtrack and many Children’s Channel programmes are subtitled in Swedish on cable systems.

The Ministry of Cultural Affairs plans a two-pronged attack to remove the advertising it finds offensive and which is banned under Swedish broadcasting law: advertising aimed at children under 12 and carried in breaks around children’s programming. 

First, the consumer-protection agency the Konsument Ombudsmanen will take action against advertising agencies which produce children’s advertising. Monica Bengtsson, a legal adviser to the Ministry of Culture, said that agencies will be warned once and then fined if they violate the rules a second time. 

If this fails – and some observers believe that it will, because advertisers could move their accounts to non-Swedish agencies – the Ombudsmanen would then try the riskier move of taking channels to court to stop the ads. 

The Ombudsmanen is not expected to act until it hears the results of the case it has already taken to the European Court of Justice against Italian children’s magazine publishers De Agostini for allegedly placing commercials targetting children under the age of 12 on both TV4 and TV3. Judgement is expected in mid-1996. 

The Swedish government is also banking on public opinion to help pressure satellite channels to stop showing children’s advertising. The political climate in Sweden is strongly in favour of strict controls on advertising aimed at children. Swedish prime minister, Ingvar Carlsson, made cracking down on such advertising a key part of his opening speech to the present session of the Swedish parliament. 

The amended directive (which still needs the approval of the European Parliament) allows a member state to ban children’s advertisements under its own rules even if the channel satisfies the rules of the country from which it is broadcast. 

The Swedish government believes that the combination of the amended directive provisions and its ban on children’s advertising is all it needs to prevent the adverts. 

Per Bystedt, vice-president of TV3, insisted this week that the channel is UK-licensed and therefore does not fall under Swedish law: “We are following the Independent Television Commission’s rules.”

New definitions on which countries are responsible for regulating channels, adopted by the European culture ministers last week, could lead to TV3 being regulated in Sweden rather than the more liberal UK if it is deemed that the channel is really established there. However, the Swedish government has investigated the extent to which TV3 is based in the UK and, according to Bystedt, has declared that it is satisfied that the company is British.