THE ALCOHOL ADVERTISING RESTRICTIONS: A TRAP FOR SIMPLETONS
NOT EVEN A LEV HAS BEEN PAID BY GUILTY RADIO AND TV STATIONSThe Council for Electronic Media (CEM) imposed a BGN5,000 fine on bTV because it advertised alcoholic drinks earlier than 10 p.m., the council informed. The sanction was voted a week ago, but the offence in question took place last February. The broadcasting channel is punished because it showed a bottle of a new brandy in a paid reporting from the Vinaria 2005 exhibition. While the reporting was broadcasted, a commentator's voice announced that it was the newest product of a wine maker which represented a uniquely soft and light brandy in the low price segment. This is a violation of art. 55, paragraph 1 of the Health Act which bans the broadcasting of direct advertisement of alcoholic drinks, CEM found out. The sanction imposed is based on art. 218, paragraph 6 of the Health Act in relation to art. 217, paragraph 2 of the Radio and Television Act. It can be appealed within seven days. The bTV managers explained that the fine was already appealed in front of the Sofia Regional Court.In the spring of 2004, the National Assembly adopted amendments to the Health Act that banned the direct advertising of alcohol and cigarettes in the programs of the electronic media. They were only allowed to broadcast indirect advertisements after 10 p.m., provided they do not show the product and the process of drinking but only the brand and the name of the producer. The restrictions became valid at the beginning of the year. Apart from the bTV fine, CEM has already imposed three sanctions worth BGN5,000 - twice on Channel 3 for showing an ad of the Lovetch brandy before 10 p.m., and once on the Sofia broadcast Seven Days TV for a similar violation. None of the fines has been paid so far, as all the three sanctions are being appealed in court, the council added.However, CEM has not sanctioned any of the operators (which are numerous, in fact) that broadcasted the Gradus vodka winter campaign films. As soon as the restrictions in the health legislation became valid, its producer, Vinex Korten, cancelled the k from the vodka and kept showing the bottle with the word voda (which means water in Bulgarian). The same campaign was put on billboards across the country, too. Later, in another TV ad the same company showed a bottle of brandy among bottles full of white and red wine. As it is known, the restrictions in the Health Act did not affect the wine and beer. A CEM member commented in front of the BANKER weekly that the supervising authority was not prepared to act in such a case as well as in many other cases provoked by the amendments to the Health Act and the resulting reactions of the market players.In other words, there is a serious legal vacuum in legislation, he explained. Unified efforts and social support in order to create intolerance towards people who take advantage of its imperfections.The first 300 days in which the ban for direct advertising of spirits and cigarettes came into effect confirmed the forecast that anyone who decides to violate it would do so. They clearly showed that the restrictions could be an easy loot in the hands of those against whom they have been projected - producers, who cut down to the minimum the age limit in their advertising messages and used all kinds of practices (unethical included) in order to attract clients. The situation did not change much after and ethic Code for Advertising Spirits was approved in spring and it was ratified by the members of associations of advertising agencies in Bulgaria and of the radio and TV operators. The code expressly wrote that the persons taking part in the ads and in the sponsor announcements of spirits should be aged over 18 and look that age. Children and youngsters may be shown in advertisement clips only in natural situations and without any hint that they will drink alcohol. Nevertheless, the chief participants in many ads of spirits still had a markedly childish appearance and were directing their messages to young people. The 300 days of the ban showed clearly that neither legislative restrictions, nor ethic self-regulations could stop the people who have decided to act in contradiction to the rules. And that after their introduction, there is nothing left to the State, but punish those who are the least to blame, i.e. the electronic media and not the producers. This raises the question if the amendments to the Healthcare Act, meant to preserve youngsters from abusive traders, have not in fact left the latter satisfied.