Weasel Words and Loopholes and Childhood Obesity

regulatory status

This interesting chart, called “Regulatory Status,” is found in a document issued by the Responsible Advertising and Children (RAC) Programme, and it illustrates where things stood, as of late last year, in the international regulation of how food and beverages are advertised to children.

The RAC is an international organization whose membership includes advertisers, agencies, and media. Their informational website is filled with happy-talk about ending childhood obesity by championing beneficial practices, and dialogue and engagement with consumers and policymakers, and all that good stuff. They aspire to win society’s trust. The RAC gives lip service to various principles:

Marketing communications seen by children must not mislead them or exploit their relative inexperience. Marketing communications must reflect the fact that children do not mature at the same rate and acquire consumer skills gradually.

They talk about building a “blueprint” for responsible marketing communications. But their every utterance is full of “ifs, ands, or buts.” Graciously admitting that self-regulation cannot operate in a vacuum, the RAC ostensibly endorses “clear and proportionate legal frameworks” and “industry-wide parameters.”

Then, their rhetoric wanders off into a forest of weasel words and loopholes. For instance, they proclaim that any legal framework must:

Recognise the role of self-regulatory systems in implementing the objectives of the law, allow for sufficient scope for such systems to operate effectively, and encourage operators to implement specific provisions of the law through codes of practice sensitive to prevailing community standards… ‘Proportionality’ means that regulation must ‘achieve the stated public policy objectives without imposing unnecessary or disproportionate regulatory burdens.’ Any measures taken to address public health issues (nutrition, obesity, healthy lifestyles, etc.) must take into account the multi-factorial nature of the problem, while bearing in mind the relatively small influence of food and beverage advertising.

See? Weasel words and loopholes. Taking into account the “multi-factorial nature of the problem” is a fancy way of saying, find somebody else to cast the blame on for the childhood obesity epidemic — anybody, except the advertisers.

But the real chuckles are to be found in that last clause, the one about the “relatively small influence of food and beverage advertising.” Who do they think they’re kidding? The fast-food industry spends around $5 billion per year in the United States alone, and an estimated $30 billion worldwide. Are we really supposed to believe they pour mega-bucks into an effort that has a “relatively small influence”? That’s absurd!

But wait, there’s more! For instance:

RAC represents advertisers, agencies and the media worldwide. Its members share a common vision for the promotion of responsible marketing communications.

A main component of that vision is to keep 12 as the upper age limit for the definition of “child” in this context. Oh, they pretend it’s for the sake of uniformity and orderliness. They speak of how a proliferation of national developments can only create an inconsistent patchwork of conflicting requirements in various jurisdictions. The horror! Apparently this big, wealthy industry is unable to cope with anything so complicated as observing different laws in different countries.

In some places, an upper limit as high as 18 has been suggested. That does make more sense. The age to which young people are protected from exploitive advertising should probably be somewhere around the age when they can be licensed to drive, or buy alcohol, or marry, or vote. But the RAC’s number-one priority is to hold that line at 12 and resist any efforts to raise the age.

The RAC’s recommendation to its members is to “Step up advocacy in hotspots.” Translated, what does this mean? In practical terms, it means that anyplace where it looks as if meaningful rules are in danger of being passed, the entire $30 billion industry should muster all its resources, and focus its mighty power on quashing that outbreak of sanity.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “About RAC,” Responsible-Advertising.org
Source: “The Age of a Child in the Context of Marketing,” Google docs, 09/15/11
Image of Regulatory Status chart used under Fair Use: Reporting.

Comments

  1. Thanks for stepping up and pointing out how these overly worded sentences twist the real meaning. It’s hard to trust anyones words that have corporate $$$s behind them.

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