Doctors join chorus against product placement

DOCTORS' leaders have become the latest in a series of groups to express concerns over plans for US-style product placement on UK television.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has warned that allowing alcohol, gambling and unhealthy foods to be advertised through product placement will fuel obesity and alcohol abuse.

"The BMA is deeply concerned about the decision to allow any form of product placement in relation to alcohol, gambling and foods high in fat, sugar or salt as this will reduce the protection of young people from harmful marketing influences and adversely impact on public health," the BMA said in a submission to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the plan.

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"By its nature, product placement allows marketing to be integrated into programmes, blurring the distinction between advertising and editorial, and is not always recognisable.

"Studies show that children are particularly susceptible to embedded brand messages and these operate at a subconscious level."

The BMA submission has been echoed by Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners.

He said: "I am particularly worried about alcohol and unhealthy foods, not just for children but for adults as well. The role-modelling on sitcoms and soaps is so important."

The BMA intervention comes as a government consultation to examine how product placement could work on UK television was due to close on Friday. Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw has said a partial lifting of the ban might help commercial broadcasters suffering from a sharp fall in advertising revenue.

A spokeswoman for the DCMS said: "As Ben Bradshaw has made clear, the government's initial preference is to allow product placement on television. A final decision has not yet been made, but if it is to be allowed, it will be closely regulated, and it will not be permitted in children's programmes. There is also a ban on the placement of tobacco products."

Current rules mean UK television broadcasters cannot include product placement in programmes which either they have made or have been made for them.

A EU directive permits product placement in sport and light entertainment programmes if national governments allow it.

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Most other EU nations have now decided to lift restrictions.

Product placement is common in the United States. American Idol, the most watched show on US TV, is notable for its placements, including Coca-Cola logos on the judges' cups. The logos are blacked out when it is shown in the UK.

Product placement is also common in films made and shown in the UK.