Allied Domecq, parent of Hiram Walker Co., and the Washington Legal Foundation said last week they have discussed suing Mr. Hundt, charging he overstepped the line between stating his opinion and using broadcasters' fear of FCC action to censor legal advertising.
"If regulatory agencies . . . continue to posture, clearly the distilled spirits industry will have to look to other alternatives to redress it," said Donald Coe, president of business development for Allied Domecq.
Mr. Coe said Fox Broadcasting accepted spots for Kahlua Mudslide, a drink with 5.9% alcohol, then reversed itself.
"The fact that Fox had accepted it and then canceled on the advice of their Washington people would indicate that they have been intimidated by Reed Hundt's position," said Mr. Coe.
Glenn Lammi, chief counsel of the Washington Legal Foundation, said Mr. Hundt's lobbying has gone beyond talk.
"We believe strongly in the right to advertise," he said. "This level of discussion by Mr. Hundt and others is pretty strongly chilling free speech. If the government can do that with liquor, it can do it with any advertising."
Washington Legal Foundation took the first step toward filing a suit, filing a Freedom of Information Act request with FCC for information about commissioners' contacts with broadcasters and the administration.
Mr. Hundt told the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas last week to resist "the siren call of cash." He urged broadcasters to push for an antitrust exemption to let them develop an ad code "that would protect kids from liquor ads."
AD GROUP CONCERNS
The lawsuit also could name broadcasters and the president as defendants. The possibility of a lawsuit comes amid ad group concerns that the method of regulating advertising is being changed.
"Every agency is going to be an ad regulator," warned Dan Jaffe, exec VP for the Association of National Advertisers.
"There is a policeman on the block. If someone is not advertising right, is deceptive or targeting an inappropriate audience, the FTC will step in," he said, noting Advertising Age's report that the Federal Trade Commission was examining ad buys of both Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. At the FTC's request, A-B last week was preparing studies of its media buys that reach the under-21 TV audience. Reportedly, the FTC has asked for similar information from Miller.
Also last week, Rep. Joe Kennedy (D., Mass.) introduced legislation copying the method Congress used to force broadcasters to develop TV ratings for V-chips for liquor.
Rep. Kennedy's "Voluntary Alcohol Advertising Standards for Children" would give broadcasters, the liquor industry and public service groups a year to develop a "voluntary" program to limit content, frequency, timing and placement of all alcohol spots. The standards would then be reviewed by the FCC, which could accept them or write its own code.