HUNDT HINTS AT WIDE FCC AUTHORITY TO PROBE ADS: BUT OTHER COMMISSIONERS' STANDS ARE LIKELY TO THWART ANY ACTION

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt not only is defending his push to examine distilled-spirits broadcast ads, he's suggesting the agency has broad authority to examine any broadcast ads.

But statements from other commissioners make it clear Mr. Hundt now has insufficient support to conduct any investigation.

The FCC already has one open spot and Commissioner James Quello has said he would like to leave at the end of next month.

RESPONDING TO DINGELL

Mr. Hundt's comments and those from other commissioners came in response to a letter from U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D., Mich.), the ranking Democratic member of the House Commerce Committee, questioning the FCC's authority.

Mr. Hundt said statutes have "historically and consistently" provided sufficient legal support for the agency "to take action when the public interest requires it."

"Courts have long recognized that, because of its special features, the broadcast medium receives more limited First Amendment protection than do other media," Mr. Hundt said. "Therefore, broadcast advertisements may well be properly subject to appropriately tailored restrictions if these advertisements were shown to be harmful to young viewers."

Commissioner Susan Ness supported an inquiry into the issue, though conceded less certainty on the FCC's ability to do much.

CLAIMING NO AUTHORITY

Mr. Quello and Commissioner Rachelle Chong said the FCC has no authority and should not conduct an inquiry.

"It has been argued that the commission would have authority to impose restrictions . . . under its general mandate to ensure broadcast licenses serve the public interest," Ms. Chong said. "I believe that is too thin a reed to rely on. Any judgment that airing truthful alcoholic beverage advertising is contrary to the public interest would be based on difficult social and factual judgments that are well beyond the expertise of this agency."

"It's worrisome that [Mr. Hundt] has taken this approach," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers. "It suggests he will jump into it when the new commissioners get aboard. We have to try to get Congress to focus

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