VILNIUS - At an extraordinary plenary session on Jan. 11, Parliament will vote on whether to alter new, strict alcohol advertising laws that have recently knocked basketball off prime-time television.
Laws prohibiting the advertisement of alcohol between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. came into effect Jan. 1. The strict interpretation of the law being applied by the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority has meant that basketball teams, many of whom are sponsored by beer companies, cannot appear on the small screen until late at night.
The amendments caused unrest among the sport lovers as it has meant they will not be able to see live Euroleague Basketball games. Basketball enjoys an enormous popularity in Lithuania, so much so that many in the country refer to it as the nation's "second religion."
TV3, broadcaster of Euroleague Basketball this year, decided not to broadcast live games on Jan. 3, since trademarks of breweries were on display and could not be immediately removed. The games were shown after 11:00 p.m.
Head of the Lithuanian Brewers' Association Audrius Vidzys, commenting to the Internet news portal Verslo Savaite, noted that, "In any case, the beer producers will find a place to spend their money, but most of the sport lovers will not see the games."
Birute Vesaite and Antanas Matulas, the MPs who initiated the advertising laws, are now among those attempting to have them changed.
In their opinion, as reported in the Lithuanian press, the provisions merely had to ensure that alcohol advertisement would not be shown during the day, bearing in mind high rates of alcoholism and road accidents.
They argue that the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority, which implements the law, is being too strict by defining trademarks, such as those displayed on sports uniforms, as advertising. For its part, however, the consumer authority claims it is simply following the letter of the law.
Technically sports figures have been forbidden to advertise alcohol altogether according to amendments introduced in 1997, but the law has not been applied until now.
Feliksas Petrauskas, head of the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority, during a heated debate on national television LRT on Jan. 7 argued that this happened because the institution was only established in 2000 and tackled advertisement of strong drinks first. Since Jan. 1, the authority has identified 20 violations of new provisions.
Ahead of the Jan. 11 vote various parliamentary committees will present their proposals regarding the liberalization of alcohol advertising on television.
About 60,000 people signed a petition addressed to Parliament, protesting against the ban of light alcohol drinks advertisement.
On the evening of Jan. 8, TV3 announced it would broadcast the Euroleague games on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10 because the State Consumer Rights Protection Authority said they are most likely not going to apply any fines for violation pending the Jan. 11 parliamentary session, the Delfi news portal reported.