"We want to clarify the extent to which advertising restrictions make sense"

Media law expert Denis Barrelet focuses on advertising pitfalls at a conference

Media law expert Denis Barrelet focuses on advertising pitfalls at a conferenceOn June 7, the University of Neuchâtel will hold its first conference on "Advertising and the Law" (see also page 35). Denis Barrelet, professor of communications law at the Universities of Fribourg and Neuchâtel, wants to give advertising professionals a practical understanding of the legal principles relevant to their day-to-day work.What are the most important legal problems currently facing the communications industry?
Denis Barrelet: We are addressing four important topics at our meeting. Regarding comparative advertising, there is the currently very tough fight in the telephone industry as an example. We have to ask ourselves what is allowed and what is not. But copyright on the Internet is also highly topical. There is also the issue of data protection. Advertisers want to avoid wastage as far as possible. It's relatively easy for them to get addresses. However, the question arises as to what is permissible under data protection law in this context. Another hot topic is the advertising regulations in the revision of the Radio and Television Act.
Relatively little comparative advertising is done in Switzerland. Is a lack of knowledge of the legislation one reason for this?
Barrelet: Sure. The second reason is that the Swiss are always on the side of the one being attacked. So there's a corresponding inhibition in the advertising industry to do comparative advertising. It's actually astonishing when you know that Switzerland led the way with its legislation on comparative advertising for a very long time. In the surrounding European countries, comparative advertising was prohibited for a long time.
About the conference: How many participants do you expect?
Barrelet: I estimate that we will have around a hundred listeners. Of course, we hope for many participants from German-speaking Switzerland, even though the event will take place in Neuchâtel. We believe that such an event must be held on a national level. With the newly founded Institute of Journalism and Communication at the University of Neuchâtel, we want to approach communication holistically, and consequently advertising must be included. We believe that advertising is a fully entitled part of communication. Until now, however, advertising has been regarded more as an appendage.
Who should attend this event and why?
Barrelet: Of course, we expect advertising practitioners who are confronted with legal issues in their everyday lives, but also media journalists. Of course, we are well aware that the law is often perceived as something unpleasant. Journalists don't like to deal with it either. But if you permanently push the law aside, a system weakens its position, which in this case means the position of the advertiser or the journalist.
And the reactions from that?
Barrelet: Either one goes too far out of ignorance, which may be expensive. Or rigorous self-censorship is exercised, and the scope is not exploited. For the advertiser, who should be creative in his work, it's therefore a shame if he can't exploit his potential. I would even say it's an actual loss.
How hands-on can your event be?
Barrelet: If a speaker has only 25 minutes to address a topic, he must get to the essentials immediately. The second part of the event is devoted to answering questions from the audience. During two hours, criminal law, competition law, radio and television law and data protection law will be addressed. Here, specific court decisions will be discussed.
What is the benefit for advertisers who have to struggle with ad design and TV spots on a daily basis?
Barrelet: Copyright issues may arise during spot production. Not all conference topics will appeal to all participants equally. Part of the event should also be seen as continuing education.
What is currently the biggest challenge for advertisers?
Barrelet: They should know their limits, including the ethical ones. But this is an ongoing issue. What I see as very positive in the advertising industry, on the other hand, is the strengthening of the Fair Trading Commission, which has become very dynamic.
The law often lags behind reality. In your opinion, where is the greatest need for action at the moment?
Barrelet: I don't think we need a lot of new laws and new restrictions. I rather believe in certain liberalizations, especially in the radio and television sector. On the other hand, we should take a closer look and clarify to what extent advertising restrictions still make sense.
You are also the president of the supervisory authority that examines complaints regarding radio and television. What are the most frequent ones?
Barrelet: The most frequent complaints concern the factual accuracy of the information. Increasingly, we also have to deal with the portrayal of violence and sex in entertainment programs. And from time to time we are also concerned with so-called surreptitious advertising.
Private TVs want to bring forward the revision of the Radio and Television Act because they are up to their necks in water. Where do you stand on this?
Barrelet: It's more of a political question whether, for example, the article on interrupt advertising could be relaxed in a first phase. It seems important to me that existing law is applied. And someone who publicly declares that he will not apply this law discredits himself.
What fascinates you personally about communication?
Barrelet: I started my career in 1972 with a dissertation on "La liberté d'information," and I have been interested in issues related to this ever since. There is a lot at stake for our society with information. In our country, one is not thrown into prison for certain statements, the punishment is more subtle. But we also have private and public ostracism. Interview: Anita Vaucher

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