NEW FCC CHAIRMAN EYES TV LIQUOR ADS: COMMISSION LIKELY TO OPEN INQUIRY; AD GROUPS OPPOSED TO INVESTIGATION

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New Federal Communications Commission Chairman William Kennard last week endorsed the idea of an inquiry into TV liquor advertising and promised to talk to fellow commissioners before the new commission's first meeting Nov. 26.

That possibility already is drawing condemnation from ad groups and a U.S. congressman.

"This is a little troubling, in that this is the first public pronouncement [Mr. Kennard] has made," said a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R., La.), chairman of the House Commerce Committee's telecommunications subcommittee.

"Billy has a great deal of respect for Mr. Kennard, but he made crystal clear that if Mr. Kennard becomes Reed Hundt reinvented, the honeymoon will be over quickly," the spokesman said.

"The first press conference makes [Mr. Kennard] sound like same-old/same-old," he added.

Reed Hundt, Mr. Kennard's predecessor, earlier this year failed in an attempt to conduct such an inquiry.

INQUIRY BACKERS

The remaining holdover commissioner from the Hundt FCC, Susan Ness, was a supporter of the push for an investigation. And at least one of the new commissioners on the five-member FCC, Gloria Tristani, is said to be leaning toward an inquiry.

Ms. Tristani declined interview requests on the subject.

Also sworn in as commissioners last week were Harold Furchtgott-Roth and Michael Powell.

Besides Mr. Hundt, Commissioners Rachelle Chong and James Quello also left the FCC; there was one vacant seat.

"I have talked to people on both sides. Not one has told me that more distilled liquor advertising is a good thing for the country," said Mr. Kennard, adding that he believes the commission should air the issue.

WHAT CAN GOVERNMENT DO?

"The real question is, is there anything government can do?" he added.

"I believe we ought to have this debate. . . . Let's at least have this agency serve as the forum for hearing people out and putting their thoughts on record so we can make a decision," Mr. Kennard said.

Mr. Kennard didn't indicate what "decision" the agency might make and mentioned only the ads that began after the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. last year dropped its self-imposed broadcast ad ban.

So far, few broadcasters have taken the ads.

Both Discus and a group that petitioned the FCC to launch an inquiry suggested the agency should also examine the $750 million annually spent on beer and wine advertising.

"We believe that any inquiry will only begin with distilled spirits," said George Hacker, director of alcohol policies for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Distilled liquor advertising in the broadcast media raises issues that concern all alcoholic beverage advertising. The issues are inseparable."

GROUP URGES EXAMINATION

The Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol Problems, which petitioned the FCC to act and includes CSPI among its 250 member groups, last week wrote Mr. Kennard urging all alcohol ads be examined.

Lisa Hawkins, Discus' director of public issues, said the FCC doesn't have authority to regulate liquor ads and should stop "wasting time."

If the agency insists on an inquiry, however, it should consider all alcoholic beverage ads, she said.

Ad groups questioned why the FCC would get into the issue.

"I was hoping [Mr. Kennard] would start with a fresh sheet of paper," said Hal Shoup, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

MOVING CAREFULLY

Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers, said he hopes the commission will move carefully.

"This will take a great deal of time and money-and divert [FCC's] attention from key responsibilities," Mr. Jaffe said. "I am disappointed that right out of the

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