Alcohol brand owners might be allowed to advertise on Norwegian TV
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Norway is on the verge of involuntarily allowing the advertising of alcoholic beverages on television, contrary to the country’s strict alcohol policy. This change may take place as a result of pressure from the European Commission, which requested an immediate implementation of the EU ‘Television Without Frontiers’ Directive (89/552/EEC).
In theory, all advertising of alcoholic beverages is prohibited in Norway due to public health concerns. In this connection, Norway signed the EEA Agreement under the condition that it would be exempted from implementing the directive, and would thus be able to maintain its strict alcohol ban and prohibit the advertising of alcohol on television.
The directive was subsequently altered, leaving Norway with only a limited ban: it was still unlawful to broadcast alcohol commercials from another country, as long as the commercials were directed at Norwegian television viewers. In 2007 the directive was once again amended and, as a result, it was no longer possible to prohibit the broadcasting of alcohol commercials from another country.
This represented a complete revolution for the Norwegian alcohol policy and, consequently, the Norwegian authorities have been reluctant to implement the directive. Since the directive came into effect within the European Union in 2007, the European Commission has pushed for a speedy implementation of the directive in Norway. However, as a result of internal political disagreements, the Norwegian authorities have kept postponing the implementation.
Norway then turned to the United Kingdom, which had already implemented the directive, in a bid to reach an agreement between the two countries. The aim was to create an exception to the directive requiring the United Kingdom to prohibit the broadcasting of advertisements for alcoholic beverages from the United Kingdom in Norway.
However, the United Kingdom recently turned down this proposal, stating that the only way it could assist Norway was to encourage the broadcasting networks concerned to stop this type of advertising. The Norwegian authorities may now face pressure from non-governmental organisations to make use of the right of reservation from the EEA Agreement; however, for the time being, this can hardly be seen as a likely way out.
The revocation of the prohibition would have a significant impact on owners of alcohol brands. Previously, Sweden also prohibited the advertising of alcoholic beverages; however, after it implemented the directive, the broadcasting of alcohol commercials from the United Kingdom targeting the Swedish market has increased. According to Swedish newspaper DN.se, in 2008 Swedish television companies had a turnover of Skr369 million deriving from commercials for alcoholic beverages.
Norway thus finds itself in a difficult situation. The advertising of alcoholic beverages is in accordance with EU law and the directive - therefore, it is very likely that, in the near future, television channels broadcasting from outside Norway will target alcohol commercials at Norwegian viewers.
Felix Reimers and Siw Lyséll Dølvik, Advokatfirmaet Grette DA, Oslo
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