U.K. bodies oppose product placement plan

Partial lifting of ban could mean $226 mil for broadcasters

LONDON -- Religious groups, child welfare organizations and public health bodies have come out in opposition to plans to allow product placement in the U.K. -- warning that the move could damage editorial standards as well as encourage viewers to ever more unhealthy eating, fuelling childhood obesity and alcoholism.

In September culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw opened the way to a partial lifting of the ban in a bid to deliver much-needed revenues for cash-strapped commercial networks. The move, which could account for as much as an extra £140 million ($226 million) a year for broadcasters, could be in place later this year, allowing such companies as McDonalds, Pepsi and Coca Cola to pay for on-screen visibility in key shows such as "X Factor" and "Britain's Got Talent," which attract huge audiences of young viewers.

But the changes, currently under consultation by the Culture Department, have been attacked by a range of organizations.

In a submission to the consultation process, the Church of England has warned that allowing brands a key role in viewing could blur the line between editorial and paid-for content.

"Retaining trust in broadcasters' integrity and editorial balance is key to maintaining strong relationships between audience and broadcaster, which in turn has both civic, societal and economic benefits," a spokesman for the Church said.

Meanwhile the British Medical Association has said product placement would have a negative effect on national health -- and in particular children, who it said were "particularly susceptible" to media messaging.

"The BMA is very concerned by the decision to allow any form of product placement in relation to alcohol, gambling and foods high in fat, sugar or salt as this will reduce the protection of young people from harmful marketing influences and adversely impact on public health," it said in a statement.

The National Union of Teachers and British Heart Foundation have also opposed the move, currently under consultation with the Culture Department, which is expected to announce its decision by the end of next month. The public consultation closes at the end of this week.