Toby Hall - Sydney Morning Herald
If you sat down and watched the Ashes over the holiday break, tell me you weren't at times assailed by ads for alcohol products.
If you were watching with your kids, tell me those images – always of people having fun, but only ever with a beer or spirit in their hands – didn't make you feel slightly uncomfortable.
I've raised time and time again the free-ride the federal government gives to alcohol TV advertisers – an exemption that allows Big Alcohol the opportunity to bludgeon our children with wall-to-wall booze ads during daytime sporting broadcasts at weekends and on public holidays – but to no avail.
Perhaps this inaction reflects how deeply and alarmingly influential the alcohol industry – and their friends at free-to-air television – is in Australia.
Removing the exemption – which could only improve the health and wellbeing of our children – would receive widespread and strong public support, particularly among parents.
A YouGov Galaxy survey of 1000 Australian parents was released this week and affirmed again that the public wants an end to the cosy relationship between alcohol, free-to-air TV and sport.
According to the survey, an impressive majority of Australian parents (89 per cent) agree that alcohol advertising and promotion should not appear on television during children's viewing hours. And 66 per cent oppose alcohol advertising and promotion during professional sporting games – at any time. Almost three-quarters singled out for particular criticism the alcohol sponsorship arrangements of the NRL, the AFL and Cricket Australia.
The rules governing TV advertising are that alcohol ads should not be shown before 8.30pm - because alcohol is a dangerous drug not suitable for children.
Except when sport is on the screen.
An exemption allows alcohol ads to air before 8.30pm during weekend and public holiday sport broadcasts, guaranteeing that children will see them - Australian children are exposed to more than 50 million alcohol advertisements a year.
The exemption makes sport a prime spot for alcohol advertisers - four alcohol ads are shown during a sport event for every one aired during non-sport television.
Independent evidence tells us that repeat exposure to high-level alcohol promotion speeds up the onset of drinking among young people and increases the amount consumed by those already drinking.
It's time for our governments to find some backbone when it comes to alcohol.
Their own draft strategy recognises the need to strengthen the various codes to reduce the exposure of alcohol advertising to young people. It admits that the operation of these codes is "ineffective" in protecting minors, with more than 94 per cent of Australian students aged 12 to 17 reporting having seen alcohol advertising on TV and about half of all alcohol advertising being screened during "children's viewing times".
The Commonwealth needs to throw off the shadowy influence of Big Alcohol and Australia's TV industry and end the alcohol advertising exemption during children's viewing times on free-to-air television.
It should also establish a review of all alcohol advertising and promotion, including how to move towards a single national advertising code that protects children and young people from alcohol ads across all media.
The clear majority of Australians demand it.