The new chairman of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R., La.), said the January or early February hearing will target those product categories and will be used to lobby for a voluntary agreement instead of legislation.
"The problem of doing anything else, either the [Federal Communications Commission] or [Federal Trade Commission] issuing regulations, is those are going to get challenged all the way to the Supreme Court," Rep. Tauzin said. "I would like to see the hearing process focus on whether some sort of broad sort of agreement can be reached."
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain (R., Ariz.) called for a hearing of the Senate Communications Subcommittee. Sen. McCain, whose wife's family owns Phoenix's Anheuser-Busch beer distributorship, said he won't take a personal role in the hearings.
FCC TO EXPAND PROBE
Also last week, FCC Chairman Reed Hundt said his agency should expand its investigation to a formal "inquiry" into distilled-spirits advertising.
The FCC has asked four TV stations for information on ads run by Seagram Americas, but further queries require commission approval. Mr. Hundt called for that expanded inquiry in a speech and via later interviews with reporters.
"We should never throw up our hands and say, `We can't even think at the FCC about these topics,'*" he said in his speech to communications lawyers. "The whole point of using our power of notice of inquiry is to investigate issues, to develop an expertise, make recommendations, write the rules and provide a public forum for the American people to debate."
He told Advertising Age: "Maybe we will come up with a recommendation to Congress. Maybe we won't. Maybe we will come up with a proposed rule. It's a sensible way to proceed."
Fred Meister, president-CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., last week accused Mr. Hundt of stepping close to urging broadcasters to act together to illegally boycott distilled-spirits ads.
"Calling for a boycott of ads for any product can run afoul of the antitrust laws," a DISCUS spokeswoman said.
"There is certainly nothing illegal about the chairman of the FCC saying what he believes is the right policy . . . ," Mr. Hundt countered. "I'm kind of overwhelmed by the memory of my antitrust expertise and this ain't a boycott."