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As with other areas of advertising, we will continue to ensure that all possible impacts of advertising and any weaknesses in regulation are fully examined. If there is evidence of harm, regulators will need to act and to justify their actions. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of the regulatory regimes to ensure
11 Jan 2010 : Column 536
that the existing structures, especially the regulation of new media, are sufficient to protect the public.

I am sure the hon. Lady is aware that the advertising regulators are currently finalising their latest code review. The revised codes are expected to come into force later this year, and we expect any revisions to the existing code to ensure that it remains appropriate and addresses any major concerns. Ultimately, however, it is the Advertising Standards Authority that needs to regulate. I do not believe that the Government should intervene directly in specific issues.

Mr. Pelling: I do not want to be called to order, but do not politics lie at the heart of the problem? Ministers will constantly refer issues to quangos, but it is the House and the Government that should take the view that young women are suffering. Surely we cannot say that that is a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority.

Mr. Simon: The overarching principle that the media should not cause harm is certainly a matter for the Government, but the delicate business of balancing freedom of expression against potential harm and defending the freedom of the press on a case-by-case basis is not the Government's job. It is not for Ministers to determine what should be in the newspapers or on television in this country. Part of our democracy rests on the complete separation of everyone in the House from such decisions. The job of the House is to set up independent, accountable, credible regulators to make those decisions on the nation's behalf.

Let me briefly say something about broadcasting. Under the Communications Act 2003, Parliament has placed a duty on Ofcom. The Ofcom code, which implements the standards requirements set out in the Act, includes rules to protect the general public from harmful and offensive material. It prohibits discriminatory treatment or language on grounds of, among other issues, gender, and it places a duty on Ofcom to review and revise the standards for the content of broadcast programmes in order to secure the standards objectives set out in the Communications Act. That extensive framework allows Ofcom to address any issue of concern in relation to the content of broadcast programming. As I have said, it is for Ofcom to make the individual judgments.

Similar arrangements apply to the press, whose content is the responsibility of individual publications regulated by the Press Complaints Commission. The freedom of the press is important in this country.

Jo Swinson: I know that time is short, but may I ask the Minister whether he personally thinks that the way in which women, and men, are portrayed in the media represents a diverse enough range of different healthy and beautiful bodies? If not, what does he think should be done?

Mr. Simon: I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that my personal and instinctive view-although I cannot find scientific evidence, or sufficient reviewed evidence, to support it-is that the media presentation of body image must have a widespread effect, and that it is probably something that we have not looked into very carefully-

11.10 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).

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