Europe gives thumbs up to product placement

But must alert viewers

Product placement on television will be permitted in Europe, but only in programmes that carry a special signal in their titles, according to the most recent version of a European Directive approved by a crucial committee of the European Parliament.

The European Parliament's Committee on Culture and Education has accepted a compromise text of the proposed Audio Visual Media Services (AVMS) Directive. Designed to replace 1997's Television Without Frontiers Directive, the AVMS Directive has been the subject of controversy over a number of issues, including advertising and the extent to which it will apply to internet broadcasting.

The European Commission proposed the directive, which is now on its second reading in Parliament. The Parliamentary Committee has reached its compromise with the office of the Presidency, which is currently held by Germany. The proposal must still be approved by the ministers responsible for media in all 27 member states.

The directive permits limited product placement. "The placement of a specific product would be allowed in a limited range of programmes, and then only under strict rules," said a Parliament statement. "Product placement would be banned in news and current affairs programmes, children's programmes, documentaries and programmes of advice."

Programmes which carry placed products must alert viewers several times. "Before a programme containing product placement starts and when it ends, a special signal should appear. This signal should also appear before commercial breaks," said the statement.

The compromise text also orders that many programmes can only carry one advertisement break every half hour. That rule applies to films, children's programmes, news programmes and films made for television, but excludes series, serials, light entertainment programmes and documentaries.

The compromise directive text also restricts advertising to children. A code of conduct for broadcasting to children will form part of the Directive and will ban the advertising of junk food to children.

The directive will also ensure that children's programmes will not carry adverts at all unless they are 30 minutes long or longer.

The directive was significantly altered by the Parliament last December at its first reading, and the commission produced a second text in March in the hope that it would win the agreement of the Parliament and ministers.

The House of Lords in the UK recently opposed the proposal. Its European Union Committee said the directive was designed to help traditional media protect their advertising businesses from competition from new digital media.

The proposals will now be sent to ministers for their approval and then voted on by the Parliament, where the amended Directive will be passed if a simple majority of MEPs backs it.

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