Time for a sober reflection on alcohol advertising

Having dealt with junk-food gluttons and smokers, it was entirely predictable that politicians would train their nannying sights on boozers.

Twenty-nine MPs backed by the Royal College of Physicians, Alcohol Concern and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust have tabled a Commons motion to ban alcohol advertising on TV before 9pm.

With a Calvinist premier who has already signalled a U-turn on the liberalising of gambling, it is a racing certainty that ad restrictions will be implemented.

But before we all start wringing our hands about advertising being blamed for all society's ills, let's examine our consciences.

As media folk, we are down the food chain and less culpable than others, but not entirely blameless for the Friday and Saturday night chaos in every high street and hospital A&E department that has triggered politicians' anxiety.

Top of the blame list is the drinks industry itself. Brewers who have given up producing real beer with taste and regional differentiation, which could, like wine, have been marketed as accompaniments to food (as in Belgium and Germany), in favour of tasteless, high alcohol lagers - easy to neck and get pissed on. And spirits firms who disguised the taste of alcohol with fruity tasting alcopops, encouraging pubescents to guzzle booze like soft drinks.

Then there are the pub chains and nightclubs with their theme bars, happy hours and bra-and-pant-clad dollies dispensing tequila shots to eager geezers, recreating the excesses of the Benidorm summer holiday every night of the year.

Advertising agencies are also to blame for comedy campaigns that play to the binge-drinking set - WKD, Foster's, Carling and Smirnoff Ice are notable. We in media are only the placer of the message, but do we always place these in entirely appropriate environments?

Indeed, as content creators, some might say we have stoked the flames of the binge-drinking epidemic, with many lads' (and some women's) mags portraying excess as the norm, a fun lifestyle. Similarly, TV shows, such as Booze Britain, Club Reps, Ibiza Uncovered, and, now, Bouncers, catalogue in gory detail the consequences of binge drinking, served up as entertainment.

Broadcasters, who currently enjoy slightly looser restrictions than non-broadcast, may think themselves lucky that a pre-9pm ban is all that is being threatened.

Colin Grimshaw is the deputy editor of Media Week.

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