COLLEAGUES HIT HUNDT'S BID TO PROBE LIQUOR ADS: FCC CHIEF'S ATTEMPT TO CONDUCT INVESTIGATION APPEARS DOOMED

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt's planned bid for an inquiry into broadcast liquor advertising is triggering a defense of freedom of commercial speech by two fellow commissioners, and clear indications that Mr. Hundt's attempt is about dead.

Commissioner Rachelle Chong last week asked Mr. Hundt to pull the request from the June 19 commission meeting agenda, sharply attacking his proposal.

PROTECTED SPEECH

"To the extent that the chairman's concern is the mere presence of truthful liquor advertising on television directed at adults, I oppose any FCC inquiry into such constitutionally protected commercial speech," she said in a statement.

"The FCC's general mandate to ensure that spectrum is used to serve the public interest is not a plenary authorization to conduct broad-ranging inquiries ultimately aimed at dictating program content," she added. "Nor should our processes be used in a biased manner to pursue only one sector of the industry-distilled spirits-while allowing the beer and wine industry to continue to place advertisements."

Ms. Chong said that problems of whether alcoholic beverage ads reach children should be handled by the Federal Trade Commission, and attempts to restrict liquor advertising more broadly by Congress.

QUELLO ECHOES OPPOSITION

Commissioner James Quello, who earlier had expressed opposition to Mr. Hundt's request, said he seconded Ms. Chong's reservations.

Mr. Quello said the FTC, not the FCC, has responsibility to investigate allegations of targeting underage drinkers and an FCC probe "would ultimately be a futile and possibly counterproductive effort to devise an FCC-mandated regulatory `solution.' "

Late Friday, Mr. Hundt had made no decision on whether to pull the proposal from this week's commission meeting.

While the statements indicate Mr. Hundt doesn't have the support on the present five-member FCC, President Clinton has named two new members, with one slated to fill a vacancy and the other to replace Mr. Quello.

Mr Hundt, who has announced his resignation, is staying on until his successor wins Senate confirmation and could still get a majority.

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