FCC Reasserts Need For Ban On TV Spirits Ads

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt is turning up the heat on Seagram Americas and other distilled spirits marketers to comply with the industry's voluntary code barring broadcast ads, even as he defends his agency's right to regulate the advertising.

In a letter last week to the Association of National Advertisers and in a subsequent interview with Advertising Age, Mr. Hundt made it clear his concern focuses on spirits ads rather than beer and wine.

"They're separate issues," he said. "There's been a precedent" for beer and wine advertising on TV and radio, while there's been a self-imposed "ban on hard-liquor ads on radio and TV for 50 years."

Mr. Hundt's earlier response to Mothers Against Drunk Driving had raised the prospect that the FCC also would look at beer and wine advertising (AA, Oct. 14).

ANA LETTER

In the letter to ANA, Mr. Hundt said he would prefer the ad group urge spirits marketers to comply with the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. code. He added, however, that the FCC could regulate liquor ads and was looking into it.

"The commission has the authority to take action where necessary to ensure that the broadcast spectrum is operated in accord with the public interest," said the letter. "We are now considering what steps would be appropriate in response to the introduction of distilled-spirits advertising onto the public's airwaves."

Mr. Hundt urged ANA to "seriously consider" a stand "that protects our children from the possible harmful effect of distilled-spirits advertising" and avoid FCC action.

SUBJECT TO RESTRICTIONS

"In the broadcast context, distilled-spirits advertisements, even if truthful and nonmisleading, might well be properly subject to appropriately tailored restrictions if the advertisements were shown to be harmful to our nation's children," he said in the letter.

"It is important to note that the sale of distilled spirits to children and the consumption by children are generally illegal across the states. There is no doubt that concern about this topic is and always has been at the heart of the FCC's mission."

Though the FCC has yet to take any formal action about Seagram breaking the ban with TV spots for Crown Royal and Chivas Regal whiskey, and radio ads for Lime Twisted gin, Mr. Hundt said a majority of commissioners were "agitated" about the spots and the agency is still deciding what to do about the issue.

ANA expressed serious concern about the missive.

"Implicit in his letter is that there is a verdict first, then a trial," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP. "He strongly implies that the mere fact that it is advertised means it will be harmful to kids. We have seen no hard data to indicate that there is that response from advertising on any alcoholic beverage."

SURVEY SUPPORTS BAN

Limiting advertising for spirits would appear to be a popular move, at least according to one survey.

A random-sample phone survey of 1,000 adults nationally done for Baltimore ad agency Eisner & Associates found that while 54% of respondents weren't aware of the voluntary broadcast ban on liquor advertising, when made aware of it 56% were concerned it was being broken, with 23% very concerned.

The poll was conducted in October and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Contributing: Bill McDowell.

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