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Jowell says 'populist' junk food ad ban may not make a difference

LONDON - Culture secretary Tessa Jowell has said that the plan to ban junk food advertising on children's TV would have little effect on the health of children and a negative impact on ITV's income.

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In an interview with the New Statesman, Jowell says that a junk food ban would be succumbing to populist pressure and that it may not even have an impact on children's health, which is its intended target. However, she said that the government would defer to whatever decision is made by media regulator Ofcom.

"I could say, in response to a populist campaign, that we'll take those ads off the screen, only to find that it makes not a blind bit of difference to childhood obesity and diet, but that ITV can no longer afford children's programming," Jowell said.

The position taken by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport could put it at odds with the Department of Health, which earlier this month indicated that it could pressure Ofcom into agreeing a ban.

The issue of a ban on junk food advertising has been going to and fro since the government began a consultation on the issue of obesity and health.

On one side are doctors, parents and pressure groups calling for various measures including a "watershed" on advertising food that is deemed unhealthy. On the other side are the advertising and food industries, which claim that advertising does not make children eat more and that it is the government's responsibility to promote healthy lifestyles.

On publication of the health White Paper last year, it seemed as though the industry had escaped a ban, but this now looks as if it could be overturned.

In a progress report published earlier this month, the government said the food industry has until 2007 to make changes in the way it promotes food, with Ofcom given the task of consulting on tighter broadcast rules.

In the same interview with the New Statesman, Jowell says that she was arguing for healthy school dinners long before celebrity chef Jamie Oliver got in on the act, and that she would rather do an interview on 'Richard & Judy' or GMTV than on Radio 4.

"I wouldn't for one moment rubbish the 'Today' programme, but if I want to talk about school dinners or school sport, I'd rather do an interview for GMTV because I'm talking to the people," she said.

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