Times Online Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
In a bid to cut the teenage pregnancy rate, the highest in Europe, the Advertising Standards Authority wants to relax rules on condom advertisements on television.
The 9pm watershed is to be abolished, with condom advertisements to be shown throughout the day except around programmes aimed at children under 10.
The change, condemned immediately by pro-life groups, is outlined in a consultation by the authority beginning on Thursday on new advertising codes for broadcast and other media.
The authority is also proposing to allow pro-abortion services to advertise on television for the first time.
Pro-life pregnancy advice services will be able to advertise on television as long as they make it clear whether or not their service includes abortion referrals.
Only last week, condoms were condemned by Pope Benedict XVI as a health measure that “aggravates” rather than protects against the problem of HIV/Aids infection.
In line with what the Pope was trying to say, Pro-life and Catholic groups believe condoms encourage promiscuity and thus have the opposite effect of that intended, increasing unwanted pregnancy rates and risking an increase of sexually transmitted disease.
At present, condoms cannot be advertised on television before 9pm or on Channel 4 before 7pm, in order to protect younger viewers from “inappropriate” content.
But Britain’s escalating teenage pregnancy rate that has prompted the proposal for change.
Baroness Gould of Potternewton, Chair of the Government’s Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV, wrote to the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice in 2007 to request a review of the scheduling restrictions on condom advertising, noting that the UK had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and spiralling rates of sexually transmitted infections.
Her advisory group’s annual report had showed that young people believed television was one of the most effective ways of encouraging young people to use condoms.
Advertising chiefs have also examined figures in the House of Commons Library which show that, from 2002 to 2006, more than 11,000 under 16s were diagnosed with gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes or genital warts.
“The presence of condom advertisements on television continues to be a subject of complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority, but numbers are very low,” the consultation document reports.
The document advises that public sensitivities must be balanced against “a public health problem that is clearly urgent.”
In her letter to the committee, Baroness Gould argued that relaxing restrictions on sanitary protection had helped normalise those products and that advertising now associated them with “healthy and active lifestyles.”
Michaela Aston, of the pregnancy crisis service Life, said: “This is awful. Pro-life charities have no money and pro-abortion charities have a lot. We will never be able to afford to advertise on television.
“The only thing we will see is abortion agencies targeting the young. Going alongside condom advertising throughout the day, it is just going to encourage young people to have sex. The message is that if they use condoms it will reduce teenage pregnancy, even though the last decade has shown that the opposite is true. The next thing we will see is free condoms in breakfast cereals.”
John Smeaton, of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, said: “This is rather predictable on abortion, and condom advertisements throughout the day won’t help either. There is plenty of evidence to show that the more you promote easy access to birth control among young people, the higher the pregnancy rate, the higher the abortion rate. This is not the solution to the problem.”
Andrew Brown, chairman of the committee, said: “The UK advertising codes are widely recognised for setting a high bar for social responsibility. Our priority is to ensure that the rules remain relevant for the future so that consumers can continue to enjoy and trust the ads they see. Throughout this process, we sought the views of industry and policy makers and now we want to hear from all other interested parties, including the people that matter the most in advertising, the general public.”