EC takes steps to enforce TV ad limit in Italy


BRUSSELS -- The European Commission Tuesday began legal action against Italy for failing to stem the tide of advertisements on television. The move, which could have a serious effect on Silvio Berlusconi's media empire, came after the commission discovered that Italian broadcasters were failing to comply with EU rules setting a 12-minute hourly limit for advertising, a 20-minute window between ad breaks, and limits on product placement.

"Broadcasters need advertising and advertisers need broadcasters, but we must also have effective consumer protection. What we actually need is responsible advertising," EU information society and media commissioner Viviane Reding said. "If Europe is to benefit from the less detailed and more flexible advertising rules of the forthcoming audiovisual media services without frontiers directive, Italy, like all member states, has to respect and comply fully with the EU rules in force."

EU rules say teleshopping spots and promotion by broadcasters for their own shows are advertising -- but the Italian legislation fails to take these into account. The commission also questioned the effectiveness of Italian laws aimed at penalizing breaches of the TV advertising rules, saying they were too weak to have a deterrent effect and to protect consumers. The Italian government now has two months to respond to the commission's concerns.