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Minister's Address - Association of NZ Advertisers


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to be here today, and to have the opportunity to address you.

I enjoy a good advertisement with the best of them and I have many favourites – particularly with a strong New Zealand flavour – featuring our wry humour – often featuring rural life.
While I do, as you know, have some concerns about advertising, and while I know that you have some concerns about my concerns, I can certainly recognise instances where television advertisements, far from detracting from our enjoyment of our viewing, can in fact be culturally affirming snippets of local content.

And local content is something that as Minister of Broadcasting I feel very strongly about. Television and radio are vital media for the telling of our stories. Television in particular has an enormously strong presence in our lives, shaping the way we see our country and the opinions and values we hold. No other medium has the potential of television to provide such a degree of ‘shared experience’; or to so reflect and reinforce who we are – and indicate where we might be headed.

But local content, for a small country such as ours, doesn’t come cheaply. And although the price is very much worth the paying, someone does have to pay, one way or another. Until recently, of course, New Zealand consumers of television were separately billed by NZ On Air, which used this income to help fund local content. Now that that fee has been scrapped, there is a funding gap that the Government will fill, in the meantime, through the allocation of monies to NZ On Air from Vote Culture and Heritage. There is also, I believe, a policy gap, and I am committed to a very careful examination of the policy options that exist with respect to the ongoing support of local content.

I would like to turn now to talking more specifically about advertising. You will recall, perhaps, the mention of this matter in Labour’s pre-election paper Broadcasting – It’s About Us. That document noted that ‘there is publicly expressed concern over the amount of advertising currently being screened, for example around children’s programmes. Labour will encourage the Board of TVNZ to investigate seriously the level and spread of advertising necessary. As a priority Labour will promote the elimination of advertising around children’s programmes’.

Since becoming Minister, I have spoken quite a lot about advertising. I do think that it is difficult for television to fulfil its potential as a powerful cultural force if it is driven primarily by commercial imperatives. I think it is a problem, in cultural terms, if worthy programmes don’t get made or screened because it is considered that they won’t attract sufficient viewers, in turn, to attract advertising.

I note that in a 1994 report on New Zealand’s broadcasting regime, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research provided an analysis of the role of advertisers that emphasises their influence on content. The report points out that there are two purchaser groups – NZ On Air and advertisers. Of these two groups, ‘advertisers are the largest purchasers, and set the scene within which NZ On Air operates’. In economic terms, advertisers are ‘the main customers of the broadcasting system’, rather than the audience who receive free-to-air transmissions. The advertisers pay to receive ‘some measurable benefit, through access to viewers who are potential purchasers of the goods or services being advertised’.

As you will know from your own experience, advertisers are inevitably interested in some segments of the audience more than others. (As an aside, I wonder why advertisers seem less interested in targeting the ‘grey-power’ end of the population? – these people often have a certain amount of discretionary income – and might welcome being more visible on television!) Anyway, the result of the influence of advertisers, the Institute suggested, was that television had a different kind of content than would be achieved by a system governed by what economists call ‘public good theory’.

And moving from the sophisticated to the more straightforward, let me say that from a viewer’s perspective, it is certainly less easy to surrender yourself to the heightening suspense of a who-done-it – or, indeed, the raw angst of a ‘he-broke-her-heart-and-done-her-wrong’ – if you are constantly interrupted by inducements to buy razor blades or disposable nappies. This is notwithstanding the indisputable benefits conferred upon the viewer through purchase of these products. Although as Minister for the Environment I do worry about disposable nappies.

I understand, then, why New Zealanders have expressed considerable frustration with the extent of advertising on television (and I do wonder if, beyond a certain level, advertising become counter-productive for the advertisers themselves). I will be encouraging the board of TVNZ to look seriously at the amount of advertising it screens. I hope other broadcasters will heed this message also.

But I am also aware of how much is working very well in the world of New Zealand advertising. I don’t have the impulse to fix what is not broken; and by all accounts the self-regulation of the industry in terms of standards and practices is basically very sound.

Your self-regulation covers many of the concerns raised by members of the public. This government is not a 'Nanny State Government'. And my style is to work with people, not impose upon them. And to bring protagonists together.

But this requires us all to listen to each other, for all to move towards each other!

I would, for example, like to commend the Association of New Zealand Advertisers for setting up the Therapeutic Advertising Advisory Service or TAAS. The TAAS is seen as a very useful tool for advertisers to assist them to negotiate the various industry codes and pieces of legislation which apply to advertising medicines.

In the sensitive area of advertising medicines direct to the consumer, the purpose of advertisements has moved from being solely to sell product. Nowadays an advertisement is expected to inform the consumer as well.

Not only should it inform, but it has to inform in a responsible way. Let me step outside the New Zealand context to observe that the United States company that recently sold ‘stabilised oxygen molecules in a solution of distilled water and sodium chloride’ to American consumers was indeed being informative as to the product’s chemical make-up. But being ‘informative in a responsible way’ would, I think, have required the company to mention somewhere in its full-page advertisements that the substance it called ‘Vitamin O’ – and sold hundreds of thousands of vials of, at $20 apiece - could also be accurately described as common salt water!

I know that this would not happen in New Zealand, and that advertisers are aware that the responsible course of action is to inform understandably, and to sell the risks as well as the benefits in a truthful way and in language the consumer can understand. It is very important, if medicines are advertised direct to the consumer, that the message is not misleading; that medicine use is appropriate and safe; and that consumers are directed to the appropriate people to make the prescribing decision.

I am aware that radio and TV advertising have come under the spotlight and drawn attention to the issue. And I am aware that the Ministry of Health is conducting an assessment of advertising of medicines direct to the consumer, and will be reporting on this matter directly to the Minister of Health.

There is a lot of interest in advertising medicines direct to the consumer, and there are those who would wish it to be prohibited. If such advertising does not observe the basic principles outlined above, then these people will have justification for their call.

The recent case before the Broadcasting Standards Authority following a complaint from the Ministry of Health about news reporting of Lyprinol adds weight to the call for accuracy and truthfulness in the promotion of products. The Ministry’s claim that the reporting was not accurate about the effects of Lyprinol was upheld. The decision sends a signal to advertisers as well as reporters that there is a responsibility to inform the public honestly and this means informing them of the risks as well as the benefits.

My message to you is that it would be very wise to use the services of the TAAS and make every effort to get it right. I am sure that you will.

If therapeutic medicine presents one set of complex issues in advertising, then the advertising of food, and claims about the health benefits of certain foods, present another. As the Government considers initiatives related to this matter, I am grateful for the ongoing willingness of representatives of the advertising industry to work with officials to develop sensible, sustainable, policy.

A few moments ago I referred to the Labour Party’s statement on advertising in Broadcasting – It’s About Us. This statement contained specific reference to advertising to children – a subject that you will know is close to this former teacher’s heart.

I do believe that children are a special case, not simply another demographic category or marketing niche. They deserve our particular and specific consideration.

But I am aware of the complexities inherent in the debate about the effects of advertising on children, ways of mitigating these effects, and the role that should be played by parties other than the Government in ensuring that children are appropriately protected.

I must say that I was heartened to learn recently that of the 3,500 complaints on advertising that the Advertising Standards Authority has received since 1991, only 24 of them related to breaches of the Authority’s Code of Practice on advertising to children.
But, as was pointed out this week at two fora on children and TV, do people know how, and to whom, to complain?
I am encouraged too by initiatives that the Advertising Standards Authority is currently undertaking in relation to children.

I am advised that last year there was a meeting of television broadcasters, advertisers, advertising agencies and lobby groups to discuss advertising and children. Following on from that meeting, the Advertising Standards Authority intends reviewing its Code of Practice relating to children this year. I understand that a draft Code will be prepared shortly.

This review is timely, and coincides with the work that the Broadcasting Standards Authority is undertaking on programming. I hope that the two agencies will be able to share views and experience as they work through their respective codes.

At the forum organised by the Children's Commissioner on Monday, the penny really dropped for me about why I felt uneasy about some aspects of advertising surrounding children's programmes. It is when the programme is an integral part of a marketing campaign. An example given was Ninja Mutant Turtles. The toy/concept was developed first and then the television programme. It is that blurring of the lines, when the programme is a marketing tool. Now I don't know as yet how we get round that problem – given global marketing – but it is the cynical use of the child as a potential consumer that is worrying. Let's work together on this.

I do not see you as different from me. You have children. So do I. We both have their interests at heart. Let's see where we can go together.

Food and Children! I'm no expert. I failed to get my son to eat vegetables as a child. And now he is a strict, very strict vegetarian.

But there are concerns out there about the advertising of sweet food and drinks around children's programmes. Maybe this too needs some mutual brainstorming.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for the attention you have given me as I have outlined my thinking on a range of issues in which your organisations, and my Government, have an interest. I hope that you will appreciate my clear intention to work these issues through in a sensible, constructive way.


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