Wednesday, March 11 2009,

Culture secretary Andy Burnham has decided to continue the ban on product placement on UK television.

The government reviewed the ban as part of its analysis of how to implement the 2007 European Union directive on Audio Visual Media Services in UK law. The directive gave the green light for EU member states to permit limited product placement.

In a statement, Burnham said: "My priority has always been to make sure we maintain levels of trust between audiences and broadcasters, and protect the standards of broadcasting for which Britain is known worldwide.

“I have listened carefully to the arguments on both sides around product placement, and concluded that it should not be permitted in programmes made for this country. There is a lack of evidence of economic benefits, along with very serious concerns about blurring the boundaries between advertising and editorial.

“Britain is known around the world for the high quality of its broadcasting output. We need to continue to preserve editorial integrity as technology advances.

“I am well aware that a number of commercial broadcasters are facing difficult economic times and I will continue to work with the industry to explore ways we can support them, but my preference is to consider all other avenues before allowing product placement."

ITV has long campaigned for product placement authorisation, having identified it as a potential new source of income. After Burnham announced his decision, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade responded: "Given the extraordinary economic pressures ITV and others face, we can't let a decision like this simply go through without trying to fight it. We are considering our next steps and I am consulting my legal team as to whether we have a strong case for judicial review.

"I shall also be writing to the chief executive of Ofcom to ask what measures he intends to introduce to 'protect' viewers from those programmes and films that already contain product placement and which have been broadcast on British television for many years. The government should at least be taking a consistent position.

"Our audiences are savvier than the Government thinks. It is simply not in our interest to "contaminate" programmes with product placement which would irritate them and prompt them to switch over. We believe that considered product placement, in the context of the robust regulatory framework proposed in the AVMS Directive, would bring more realism to programming, portraying a world that is recognisable and relevant."