UK government to clamp down on sexy images aimed at children

‘Let children be children’ was launched today by Reg Bailey, chief executive of Mother’s Union, at a primary school in Balham, London. It is the second government review into the commercial world in three years, and has the personal backing of the prime minister.

Advertising to children has been mentioned specifically by both David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and the threat of legislative action is high.

So what should the advertising and media industries make of Reg’s report? There are 14 recommendations, made largely to business and regulators. Only one requires direct government intervention, an age-rating system for music videos.

Elsewhere, Bailey (and therefore David Cameron) is looking to industry and regulators to put a stop to certain practices.

Most notably, magazines and newspapers that have ‘sexual imagery’ on the front, should be covered up. Likewise, outdoor media owners who place saucy billboards should refrain from doing so near schools.

There are three clear practical difficulties.

1) Who decides what is ‘sexual’ and what’s not? 2) What if you can use sexual imagery in a good way near a school, like an ad for a sexual health clinic or condoms? And 3) what will the great British public say?

Brits like nothing more than a bit of smut. From saucy old postcards, to Carry On Camping and that Wonderbra billboard, voted as the ‘best outdoor ad ever’ earlier this year.

Advertisers, media and regulators have 18 months to demonstrate positive action, or they will face the heavy hand of statutory intervention.

The 14 recommendations are:

Magazines and newspapers with ‘sexual imagery’ on their covers in easy sight of children should be covered up. ACTION: publishers, distributors, retailers

Reduce the amount of outdoor ads containing ‘sexual imagery’ where children are likely to see them. ACTION: advertisers, ad industry bodies and ASA

Tighten up pre-watershed TV content. ACTION: ofcom, broadcasters

Introduce age-ratings for music videos (remove exemption from Video Recordings Act). ACTION: Government

Make it easy for parents to block dodgy internet content. ACTION: UKCCIS & Internet industry

As a matter of urgency – develop a retail code on retailing to children. ACTION: British Retail Consortium
Ensure advertising regulation reflects parents and kids views. ACTION: ASA

Prohibit employment of ‘brand mbassadors’ under-16. ACTION: CAP, Advertising Association and ‘relevant regulators’

Define a child as under-16 in all types of advertising regulation. ACTION: ASA

Raise parental awareness of advertising and marketing techniques and regulation. ACTION: ASA & Advertising Association

Beef up media literacy. ACTION: media literacy providers, ofcom, BBC

Ensure greater transparency with a single website for regulators. ACTION: regulators

Beef up complaints sections of business websites. ACTION: All business

Propose legislation if industry does not demonstrate progress in 18 months. ACTION: Government

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About James Charlton

James is a politics graduate who has worked in the parliamentary office of two Government ministers, and more recently as a lobbyist for the advertising industry. He is now an aspirant journalist, tweeting at @jamescharlo.