NMA Calls On Boris Johnson To Think Again Over Online HFSS Ad Restrictions

Plans to implement a restriction of paid-for HFSS advertising online will unfairly penalise news publishers who do not serve child audiences while the tech platforms continue to derive large revenues from HFSS advertising, the News Media Association said.   

In a letter to the Prime Minister this week, NMA chairman Henry Faure Walker called for a rethink on the plans which will impact disproportionately on news publishers, while continuing to benefit the platforms.

Through the carveout for SMEs, the ban will allow the biggest platforms for HFSS advertising – the tech platforms such as Facebook – to continue to derive enormous amounts of revenue from HFSS advertising, Mr Faure Walker said.

“Meanwhile, news media publishers, who demonstrably do not have child audiences, will directly suffer as a result of the policy.  We believe that advertisers should be able to advertise their legal products to adult audiences who frequent our sites,” he added.

“If the Government’s key concern is to limit children from encountering HFSS advertising, then it makes little sense to penalise news publishers.” 

The industry is facing significant challenges to monetise content online and has welcomed Government initiatives to support journalism such as the creation of the Digital Markets Unit which will help to level the playing field between the content creators and the tech platforms.

The Cairncross review into the sustainability of the press, identified the challenges which media owners face in monetising their content online, and in particular, the systemic challenges present in the digital advertising market. 

“The vision shared by our industry for the digital marketplace is one in which content creators, such as news media publishers, are fairly rewarded for their investment. I am sure you will agree that a strong and vibrant creative sector delivers a multitude of economic and cultural benefits to the public,” Mr Faure Walker said in the letter to the Prime Minister.      

“For this reason, we are perplexed by the proposed design of a ban on the advertising of HFSS products online, which we believe will impact disproportionately on news publishers, while continuing to benefit the platforms.

“A ban of this type will reduce freedom of choice for advertisers and harm the ability of news media publishers to monetise their content online.”  

The industry stands ready with proposals for alternative self-regulatory solutions via the Advertising Standards Authority and would welcome further dialogue with Government about these, as well as designing a specific carveout for news media if necessary.