On the Media Watch

Fred and the boys would be rolling over in their graves.For the past several weeks, representatives of Molson Breweries and Labatt Breweries of Canada have been snuggling up to Media Watch, the Toronto-based organization that scrutinizes the media for examples of...

Fred and the boys would be rolling over in their graves.

For the past several weeks, representatives of Molson Breweries and Labatt Breweries of Canada have been snuggling up to Media Watch, the Toronto-based organization that scrutinizes the media for examples of sexism in advertising.

Media Watch is part of casandra, a coalition of women’s groups formed last year at the urging of Marilyn Churley, Ontario’s minister of Consumer & Commercial Relations.

The ministry is in the midst of developing new regulations that are expected to set strict limits on the portrayal of male and female bodies for the purpose of selling alcohol.

And casandra is charged with representing the concerns of women and women of color during the development of the regulations.

In addition to Media Watch, casandra is made up of representatives from the Metro Alliance Against Violence Against Women, Toronto Women in Film and Television, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, the Addiction Research Foundation and the National Film Board.

The beer companies are being represented by their industry’s provincial association, Breweries of Ontario. The Ontario government is represented by the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario, which will enforce the new regulations.

How times have changed.

Only five years ago, when Molson’s ‘Fred and the Boys’ campaign for Molson Export was still on the air, it would have been inconceivable to think of beer marketers co-operating with women’s groups to seriously discuss limitations on the portrayal of women in beer advertising.

Indeed, just two years ago, Ontario’s then-Liberal government actually dropped an llbo law prohibiting beer advertisers from ‘unduly stressing face and figure.’

But Churley, who has been minister for about two years, has made the beer companies aware she is firmly committed to developing new regulations, so it would be in their best interest to participate in the process.

Common ground

Churley says she visited the offices of Labatt and Molson to invite them to the negotiating table, adding the breweries and casandra ‘started from opposite ends on how this could be done, but have been finding lots of common ground.’

Churley says the negotiations are only the first step in the development of new regulations.

She has asked the negotiators to come up with draft regulations that will subsequently be reviewed by representatives of the distilling and advertising industries among others.

Peggy Sattler, Churley’s communications assistant, says the three groups have met several times so far.

Sattler describes the relationship between casandra and the breweries (only the province’s major breweries, Labatt and Molson, are involved) as ‘very positive.’

‘Proactive’

Jan Westcott, executive director of Breweries of Ontario, says ‘we have stated quite clearly that we believe self-regulation works, but we are being proactive.’

Westcott says ‘nobody is blind to the issues being brought forward,’ adding ‘we’re going to talk to them, we’re going to see what they propose, and we’ll go back to our members and we’ll take it from there.’

In addition to meeting with casandra to develop new sexism in advertising regulations, the beer industry has asked the coalition to develop ‘gender-sensitivity’ workshops to be attended by beer marketers and their agencies.

Westcott says the workshops, to be funded by the beer industry, are being designed to educate marketers about gender portrayal issues.

But he says they will also give beer markers much-needed insight into the female beer market.

Meg Hogarth, executive director of Media Watch, says ‘the brewers are not keen to be regulated, but they are being progressive.’

Horgarth says the brewers ‘recognize that there are a lot of women drinking beer, and they do not see themselves represented in commercials.’

The attitudes of the beer companies have changed considerably in just a short time.

It was only two years ago that Molson reacted with resignation to a Media Watch complaint about a Molson ad appearing on property owned by the Toronto Transit Commission.

The ad, known as the ‘Fox,’ shows an attractive woman standing in an alluring posture, holding a bottle of Molson Canadian.

As a result of the Media Watch complaint, and other complaints made by members of the public, the ttc ordered the ads removed.