FCC'S NEW BLOOD MAY REKINDLE LIQUOR AD FLAP: CHANCES OF PROBE COULD IMPROVE AFTER SENATE FILLS 4 VACANT SPOTS

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Four new members of the Federal Communications Commission could be approved by the U.S. Senate this week, and they may enter office willing to tackle the issue of liquor advertising on TV.

Months after current FCC Chairman Reed Hundt unsuccessfully sought to get the commission to examine the ads, statements made by the nominees make clear that, following their confirmation, the votes may be present to begin an FCC inquiry.

One vote to examine broadcast liquor ads already sits on the FCC: Susan Ness, the lone continuing member on the five-member commission. She backed Mr. Hundt's request for an inquiry.

On the current commission, which has one open seat, Ms. Ness and Mr. Hundt's votes were balanced by Commissioners Rachelle Chong and James Quello, who argued that an inquiry would violate First Amendment issues or overstep FCC authority.

RESEMBLING HUNDT

William Kennard, the FCC general counsel who's President Clinton's nominee for chairman, took a position similar to that of Mr. Hundt in answering questions from the Senate Commerce Committee.

The FCC has authority to regulate broadcasting licensees in the public interest, and the agency can take action "when it determines that advertising is contrary to the public interest," Mr. Kennard said.

While saying he had made no decision yet on whether the FCC should act on liquor ads, he noted the number of requests it has received to examine the subject.

Other FCC nominees were less clear about their positions. Harold Furchtgott-Roth, currently chief economist of the House Commerce Committee, appeared to rule out an alcohol inquiry. But Gloria Tristiani-a New Mexico utilities commissioner-seemed to lean in support of an examination.

'ALCOHOL IS ALCOHOL'

Ms. Tristiani, who testified at a congressional hearing that "alcohol is alcohol" and any inquiry should look at all alcoholic beverage advertising, said in written comments that she was unfamiliar with FCC's authority to regulate alcohol ads but believed the agency had successfully examined public interest impacts of advertising in the past.

The fourth nominee, Michael Powell, now chief of staff of the Justice Department's antitrust division, expressed concern about First Amendment issues but said he had not fully considered the matter.

Even if the FCC gets the votes to examine liquor advertising, an inquiry still is uncertain since the new commission could decide to look first to other major

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