GROUPS:LET FCC PROBE ALL ALCOHOL ADS: HUNDT MAY BE PERSUADED ABOUT BROADER STUDY OF BEER, WINE SPOTS

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Hoping to raise the stakes in the fight over broadcast advertising of distilled spirits, the Center for Science in the Public Interest joined other groups in petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to look at all alcoholic beverage ads on the air.

FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, who has been pushing for an agency probe into distilled spirits ads, seemed to endorse the far-broader investigation requested by the petition.

INQUIRY CALLED 'DUTY'

"When so many Americans of such prominence and commitment ask the FCC to look into a very troublesome use of the airwaves, it's an abandonment of our duties as public servants if we don't, at the very least, conduct a public inquiry into the issues they are raising," Mr. Hundt said in a statement.

The other groups included the Center for Media Education, the Community Anti-Drug Agencies of America, the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence and the National PTA.

In the past, Mr. Hundt has sought to restrict any inquiry to liquor; it was not immediately clear whether that intention had indeed changed.

While broadcast advertising of liquor is small, beer and wine companies spend about $700 million a year on those media.

Alaska and about a dozen other states earlier petitioned the FCC on this issue, but Mr. Hundt has failed to win the support of a majority of fellow FCC commissioners.

President Clinton, who supports an FCC investigation on distilled spirits, is expected to name three new commissioners shortly.

"It's difficult to look at one [alcoholic category] without the other. They are interrelated," said George Hacker, director of CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project.

Mr. Hacker said that while it may be difficult to get the current commission involved, the possibility of the new commission acting may prompt broadcasters to rethink their unwillingness to voluntarily restrain beer and wine advertising.

NAB SEES NO NEED FOR PROBE

The National Association of Broadcasters reacted to the petition last week by saying there is no need for an FCC inquiry.

"The fact of the matter is no broadcast network and no group owner of any size are carrying any hard-liquor advertisements. FCC intervention in this area would represent a solution to a problem that does not exist," said a NAB spokesman.

He said the group agreed with U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) and Rep. John Dingell, (D., Mich.), who believe the proper venue for an alcoholic-beverage

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