FCC CHIEF RAISES SPECTER OF ENTERING AD REGULATION HUNDT RESPONSE TO MADD LETTER SETS OFF ALARM FOR MARKETERS OF BEER, WINE

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The ambiguous answer Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt gave to Mothers Against Drunk Driving about liquor TV ads is bringing fears that the agency could look at the $750 million spent annually on beer and wine TV advertising-important to sports programming.

Broadcasting and advertising groups, along with liquor marketers, were studying Mr. Hundt's comments while awaiting his return this week from a trip to China.

OPENING A CAN OF WORMS

"You'd have to be a nitwit not to realize there is a can of worms opened here," said one broadcast industry executive, who asked not to be identified.

An Oct. 1 letter from MADD to Mr. Hundt stated concerns about the effect these ads may have on underage drinking. It also included the suggestion of limiting all alcoholic beverage advertising on TV to after 10 p.m. Mr. Hundt responded with a statement that seemed to indicate he would consider the request.

"I am grateful to MADD for bringing this issue to the commission," he responded on Oct. 3. "I will consult with our staff and my colleagues immediately to discuss appropriate procedures for responding to this situation."

MADD Pres-ident Katherine Prescott said last week she hoped the response indicated FCC would be looking at all alcohol advertising.

Advertising groups and broadcasters fear any restrictions could severely affect sports programming, much of which airs before 10 p.m.

"I just don't know what they intend to do. My experience has been that while people target a particular campaign, the relief they ask would apply to all alcoholic advertising," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers.

FCC URGED TO BACK OFF

In a letter to Mr. Hundt last week, the ANA urged FCC not to step into ad regulation, suggesting Congress had given the right of regulation to the Federal Trade Commission.

"While ANA recognizes that the FCC has authority to ensure that the nation's broadcasting system is operated in the public interest, we do not believe that Congress envisioned this authority would or should be utilized as a springboard for general FCC oversight of advertising on the broadcast media," the letter said.

The National Association of Broadcasters expressed similar concern.

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