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Ad ban threat to TV groups

BRITISH broadcasters of children's programmes fear new European rules on advertising could kill off some of their most popular programmes or leave them with gaping holes in their accounts.

In a key vote tomorrow, the European Parliament's culture committee is expected to approve an amendment to the Television Without Frontiers Directive, which would ban corporate sponsorship of children's shows and toy ads in the centre breaks of programmes.

The proposal is fiercely opposed by the Paris-based World Federation of Advertisers, which argues there is no scientific evidence to show that television ads harm children.

Toy manufacturers are also concerned about the proposals, although they think broadcasters would be harder hit. "It would probably be most disastrous for television stations," said Peter Waterman, chairman of the broadcasting committee of the industry group Toy Manufacturers of Europe. "Income from children's programmes would drop sharply and the funding for new programmes would dry up."

Ironically, the review of the Television Without Frontiers Directive was inspired by France's desire to encourage more domestic production. The proposed ban is one of 250 amend- ments and is being sponsored by an Italian MEP, with support from the governments of Greece and Sweden.

Among the UK companies most likely to be hurt if the amendments become law are GMTV, which airs the hit programme Power Rangers, and a host of independent producers. A spokesman for ITV said its companies were expecting a sharp fall in revenues, although their licences would force them to continue broadcasting to kids.

ITV programmes such as Teleganticmegavision and It's Not Just Saturday would be under threat. "Any loss of advertising breaks would cause an important fall in revenue, which is directly related to programme development," said Sue Eustace, head of European affairs at ITV.

Satellite broadcasters would be affected less severely because they get additional revenue from subscription fees.