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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 June 2006, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Row over junk food ad proposals
Child eating a burger
Campaigners have called for tighter restrictions on junk food ads
A heart charity has withdrawn plans to take media regulator, Ofcom, to court over its consultation on TV commercials on junk food.

The National Heart Forum had threatened a judicial review to force Ofcom to consider a 9pm watershed ban on all junk food adverts.

They said Ofcom had now yielded to pressure and had opened up the consultation to include the option.

But Ofcom said it still felt a 9pm ban would be "disproportionate".

Ofcom opened a public consultation in March on three options to restrict TV junk food adverts to children.

The proposals included restricting adverts during children's programmes.

"It remains to be seen when the final proposals are published, whether the concessions squeezed out of Ofcom by our legal challenge amount to a genuine willingness to consider the 9pm option"
National Heart Forum

But the plans stopped short of a watershed ban because the regulator said it would be "disproportionate" and would cost broadcasters millions of pounds in lost revenue.

The National Heart Foundation said Ofcom had now sent out supplementary information on a pre-watershed ban and said it would "welcome comments on the option".

The consultation is open until the end of June and organisations can submit new responses in light of the new information.

'Significant concessions'

"We are happy that Ofcom has made these significant concessions and made it unnecessary to take them to court.

"We are therefore withdrawing our application for judicial review," said Jane Landon, deputy chief executive of the NHF.

"Ofcom still maintains that the 9pm option would place a 'disproportionate' burden on broadcasters, but it has clearly - albeit reluctantly - acknowledged the ground swell of public opinion that this option merits serious debate as part of this consultation.

"It remains to be seen when the final proposals are published whether the concessions squeezed out of Ofcom by our legal challenge amount to a genuine willingness to consider the 9pm option."

The Food Standards Agency has also openly criticised Ofcom's proposals in its consultation response. saying the proposals did not go far enough.

Current estimates suggest just under a third of those under 16 are now overweight and 17% are obese.

But Ofcom research indicates TV adverts have a "modest direct effect" on children's food choice.

The combination of exercise, family eating patterns and school policy plays a much larger role in childhood obesity, according to the regulator.

A spokesperson for Ofcom said organisations had always been free to comment on a 9pm watershed ban.

"The public consultation is continuing on the same basis as before and we continue to believe that, based on the current evidence, a pre-9pm ban would be disproportionate," he said.

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