The regulator is deciding how to restrict TV junk food ads to children. The Food Standards Agency, health charities and children's groups say that ads for highly fatty, salty or sugary foods should be banned before the 9pm watershed. Ofcom excluded this proposal from its consultation because it would "impose a disproportionate impact upon broadcasters".
What Ofcom means by "disproportionate" and how it came to that view only warrants a few lines of the controversial consultation paper.
So how do we weigh kids' health against advertising income? The social and health benefits of a pre-watershed ban are comparable with or, according to some policy makers, greater than the amount it would cost broadcasters. Ofcom says that the cost to broadcasters is disproportionate because TV adverts only modestly affect food choices. But its figures account for that. What's more, the benefits fall to the public while companies carry the cost. If Ofcom is to compare like with like, it should worry about how far costs will hit taxpayers. Perhaps Ofcom doesn't want to penalise broadcasters more than other groups that shape what children eat. But that is like saying that it is unfair to catch fraudsters if we don't catch burglars. The point is to hold both to account.
Ofcom's final excuse, reading between the lines, is that the extra benefits of a pre-watershed ban compared with the next best option are relatively expensive for broadcasters. What it forgets is that behind the figures for Quality Adjusted Life Years are real children with real health problems. The UK is signed up to the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which legally obliges the regulator to provide a full and healthy life to all children. That includes those extra ones whose health costs broadcasters more.