Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 10 July 2014

Health charity slams ads watchdog

ASA is not doing enough to protect children from online adverts, according to NICHS

A health charity has accused the national advertising watchdog of failing to protect children from junk food online.

Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke (NICHS) claimed the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) was both unwilling and unable to regulate the industry.

Chief executive of the charity, Andrew Dougal, said findings in a new report that the ASA had allowed online advertising that promotes junk food showed it was failing to keep up with the digital world.

"Now more than ever, parents could use a strong helping hand in dealing with the online world and protecting their children from commercial interests," Mr Dougal said. "The ASA has proved itself unwilling and unable to fulfil this role."

He said self-regulation has proven to be a failed model - as seen in numerous industries, from phone hacking to banks and now online marketing.

"In the meantime, those on the ASA Council and the Committee of Advertising Practice have to step up and improve the performance of their organisations," he added. "They should heed the report's findings as they conduct their own official two-year review of the online remit extension."

He said the report, published by the Children's Food Campaign, found the ASA had allowed advertising on the internet that would otherwise be banned on children's TV.

Existing broadcasting laws prevent the promotion of junk food during hours when youngsters are likely to watch television, as well as junk food adverts that feature child-friendly brand characters.

The laws were extended two years ago to cover websites and social media, but the NICHS accused the ASA of failing to get to grips with its evolving role.

It said food companies continue to exploit loopholes and advertise junk foods to children online.

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