This week sees the launch of a new self-regulatory organisation for the advertising industry in Greece - an important step in the establishment of best practice in advertising self-regulation across the European Union. As alcohol advertising remains one of the most contentious areas which self-regulatory organisations (SROs) have to contend with, the events in Greece this week are extremely significant for the drinks industry. Ben Cooper reports.

There is no legislation on the Greek statute book specifically on alcohol advertising and until now the self-regulatory framework, at least with regard to alcohol, was also relatively undeveloped, certainly in comparison with some other EU countries.

The formation of the Greek Self-Regulatory Committee, which is officially launched this Thursday, arguably brings self-regulation in Greece into a new phase and brings it more into line with other EU states. The European Advertising Alliance (EASA) has played a big role in developing and harmonising self-regulatory structures for advertising across Europe and also works closely with national alcohol trade associations, social aspects organisations (SAOs) and The Amsterdam Group, the pan-European industry-sponsored social aspects group.

"We have been working very hard and the Greeks have been working very hard to put self-regulation on the map in Greece and this week is a very big step for them," said Sara McClintock of EASA. "The government has also been involved in developing the Greek system so it looks a little more co-regulatory than self-regulatory."

As a tri-partite organisation, having a membership comprising advertisers, advertising agencies and media, the Greek organisation is more consistent with other organizations that are affiliated to EASA across the EU and in other European countries.

Many of these organisations police sector-specific codes on various categories and alcohol is very often one of them. As yet the Greek organisation does not have a sector-specific code on alcohol but this will certainly change in the foreseeable future.

Associations representing the country's brewers, wine producers and distillers will be at Thursday's launch as will be Carole Bridadeau, representing the Amsterdam Group.

Although the Greek code does not yet include a sector-specific code on alcoholic drinks, Carole Brigaudeau was sanguine concerning the swift implementation of such a code, which at the very least would reflect the TAG common guidelines that have informed many such self-regulatory codes across Europe.

"The wines and spirits companies have drafted a code and I know that the brewers are in the same boat so there should be self-regulatory code in place and the organisation in place to look after self-regulation," Carole Brigaudeau told just-drinks. "For Greece, the content of my presentation will focus on the elements of a prototype self regulation system to be put in place."

That the sector-specific code on alcohol advertising should be drafted by the trade associations rather than the SRO itself is not unusual. In fact, it is the norm among European advertising self-regulation organisations. But it is the SROs who have the systems and the authority for policing sector-specific codes, whether concerning alcoholic drinks, food, toys or time-shares.

While encapsulating the TAG common guidelines, which cover all the areas of public concern that one might expect, such as protection of minors, not encouraging excessive consumption and not linking drink with driving, Brigaudeau is also keen to stress to the Greek trade associations the importance of providing copy advice.

Copy advice, where an organisation can look at an advert before it has been published or screened, is a key plank in the TAG best practice strategy, which it has been promoting to SROs throughout Europe through a series of roadshows.

As Brigaudeau points out, handling complaints effectively and compliance are not the same thing. In fact, only around 1% of complaints made by members of the public against advertisements concern alcohol advertising at all.

However, this unfortunately does not mean that only 1% of advertisements are in technical or flagrant breach of a self-regulatory code. What worries national drinks industry groups and TAG is that people in positions of authority, such as in European Commission or in the WHO, who are in favour of tougher regulation, will see advertisements which are in breach whether they elicit a public complaint or not. That is why providing copy advice, whether offered by the SRO or by the trade associations which draft the sector-specific codes, is so vital. As Brigaudeau put it: "Prevention is better than cure."