Beer makers barred from showing beer in Norway

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Norwegian beer makers have reacted with fury to "surreal" rulings by two state agencies forbidding brewers from reviewing beer or showing pictures of beer on their own websites.

The Norwegian Marketing Council on Monday gave its full backing to a Directorate of Health decision that found Aass Brewery and the Norwegian Brewery Association guilty of violating the provisions of the Alcohol Act.

The health directorate previously ordered Aass Brewery to remove from its websites all images of foaming beer, all information about microbrewery beer, as well as any specific beer recommendations.

Brewery association website meanwhile has been barred from publishing a beer selection tool that helps users choose suitable beers for different occasions.

The association has also been commanded to remove any links to articles reviewing beer in the Norwegian media.

Furthermore, the Marketing Council agreed with the directorate that a censored beer picture on the association’s website was in breach of laws against alcohol advertising.

Furious at the ruling, the Brewery Association has now asked health minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen (Labour Party) to work towards a change in the laws surrounding alcohol advertising.

“We find these measures quite surreal,” said chairman Petter Nome.

Nome pointed out that it was fully legal for star skier Emil Hegle Svendsen to appear on public television in skiwear advertising a German beer while Norwegian beer remains subject to “total secrecy”.

He noted too that the state-run alcohol retail monopoly, Vinmonopolet, was free to describe its products in great detail, while the Brewery Association was barred from providing “sober consumer information” about low-alcohol beers.

The association characterized as a breach of freedom of speech the Marketing Council’s decision to ban it from linking to four news articles about the economic growth of microbreweries.

Lending his backing to the brewers, Arne Jensen, assistant secretary general of the Association of Norwegian Editors, said in a recent interview that the Norwegian authorities risked contravening the European human rights convention by telling brewers what they could and could not publish.

“In this case the directorate should stop and listen. If so I think they’ll hear the ice cracking beneath them,” he told trade union magazine Journalisten.

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The health directorate argued that the existing advertising laws barred the brewers from linking to editorial material on beer, regardless of its content. Linking to reviews of beer could be equated with the association publishing the same material on its own website, the directorate said.

“The link is there for marketing purposes since the content is of such a nature that it would have been considered advertising if the Brewery Association or Aass Brewery had produced the material themselves,” the health directorate wrote.

A unanimous Marketing Council supported the directorate’s view that editorial articles on the website of public broadcaster NRK counted as illegal advertising when linked to by the Brewery Association.

The council noted too that commercial speech enjoys “a somewhat lower level of protection that other forms of speech in the societal discourse”.

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