IT may have seemed a minor matter but it was indicative of an undesirable trend. Under pressure from ITV and some other commercial broadcasters in Britain the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, recently said that rules against “product placement” on TV would be relaxed in order to increase income for the broadcasters. Product placement involves the positioning, for a fee, of recognizable consumer products in TV soap operas, dramas and comedy shows. But Mr Bradshaw's decision led to a revolt by four of his fellow ministers -- Hilary Benn, Andy Burnham, Ed Balls and Ed Miliband -- who argued that subliminal advertising of this kind could result in an increase in public behaviour contrary to government advice on, for instance, obesity and excessive drinking, the over-use of non-prescription medicines and smoking. So yesterday Mr Bradshaw changed his mind and banned product placement in these and some other areas although broadcasters will still be able to accept other product placement advertising.

The change will probably be denounced as yet another instance of government nannying but the British Medical Association, the National Union of Teachers and the Royal College of General Practioners have also lobbied against the original plan. However, many viewers will still regret that product placement is to be permitted at all. Those who prefer ITV's programmes should be free to enjoy them without feeling that there is no escape from the persistent intrusion of advertising messages.