Thursday, September 14, 2006

Beers, cheers and fears

Brewers and festival organisers have reacted with unhappiness to suggestions that when alcohol salespeople sponsor music festivals, they might encourage kids to drink.

"What an extraordinary idea - that because we sponsor events, people will buy our products" seems to sum up the reaction to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) calling for a ban.

InBev, who pump the cash into T in the Park, suggests that it does so in an educatory fashion:

It claims that "more forward-thinking" government advisors believe sponsorship "should be used to try and educate people about the responsible use of alcohol".

However, it also said that banning them from sponsoring T in the Park would have "little effect" in discouraging youngsters from drinking, which is curious - does the sponsorship have the power to influence people, or does it not?

We're not entirely sure where the education about the responsible use of alcohol is at T in the Park - we've never been, so maybe there is a large stand where a man holds up brandy and explains how it can be used in a medical context, for example.

Melvin Benn, from Clear Channel's Mean Fiddler organisation, shows himself to be having difficulty understanding the story - perhaps he needed a stiffner before giving his quote:

"'It would appear that the government have not got enough to do," said Mean Fiddler Music Group managing director Melvin Benn, whose Reading and Leeds festivals are branded the Carling Weekend.

Uh, Mr. Benn - the call for the ban has come from a drug advisory body, not the government. But carry on.

"Carling have been sponsors of Leeds and Reading for nine years with no downside on the state of the nation as I see it."

The Carling Weekend has, on more than one occasion, ended with violence and ritual burnings, and the Leeds event had to leave its original venue after the festival ended with 200 drunken louts causing a quarter of a million pounds worth of damage. But, to be fair, this year didn't see anyone hospitalised after a mini-riot, so maybe people have been slowly educated into getting stewed responsibly by the sponsorship.

And Benn's cocky attitude might have worked a bit more effectively had he actually paid attention to the context in which the ACMD was making its call - it offered research proof that, actually, the state of the nation has suffered something of a "downside" as young people drink more:

Of all the drugs, alcohol has shown the most recent growth in use and causes the most problems among young people in the UK today. The most alarming recent development has been the growth in the number young women who are drinking frequently and to excess. In the past decade the proportion of women drinking more than twice the recommended weekly limit has doubled.

Of course, the Reading Festival can't shoulder all the blame, but a little more willingness to try and help rather than braying might not have gone amiss.

The Portman Group - which is basically a brewers-funded version of the Press Complaints Commission - at least tried to sound like it cared:

The Portman Group, which regulates the brewing industry, said it was "satisfied" with how its code of practice regulated sponsorship deals.

"The code is appropriate and generally very well observed," it said in a statement.

"Nevertheless, it's important not to be complacent about the industry and social responsibility and we are shortly to carry out a review of the code."

The Government, of course, is much too busy infighting to want to do anything about anything, so there's nothing to stop Carling from sponsoring Reading next year.

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