SUSPICIONS OF MEDIA BIAS NOW TURN TO ANTI-DRUG ADS: BLACK CAUCUS ON HILL ASKS WHITE HOUSE ABOUT DISPARITY

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The Congressional Black Caucus is charging the government's $150 million in annual spending on anti-drug ads is falling woefully short in minority media.

In a letter to Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the caucus is asking for an explanation. This comes as Congress begins to review what should be spent on the program next year.

The group of 34 congressmen claim the anti-drug agency has spent $10.9 million for Hispanic ads but just $3.2 million on African-American marketing and $2.2 million directed toward Asian-Americans.

'WE QUESTION THE AMOUNT'

"While we do not denigrate or de-emphasize the obvious importance of funding other ethnic-media markets, we question the amount allocated to African-American media markets," the letter said.

It asks Gen. McCaffrey and the drug office to explain how spending patterns are determined and what share of advertising is prepared by ethnic agencies or placed in minority media.

"We do not believe that an effective and efficient strategy to eliminate drug use among all Americans and an equitable allocation of advertising funds to qualified minority-owned and operated media and advertising companies are mutually exclusive," the letter said.

DENIES DISCRIMMINATION

Gen. McCaffrey, appearing at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing last week, in part to showcase the anti-drug effort's initial success, denied the agency is discriminating and said a formal response is being prepared.

The advertising being questioned by the caucus was placed by former agencies Bates USA and Zenith Media.

Gen. McCaffrey said that of the approximately $300 million being used on paid and free media-the program requires media to provide a free spot or something of equal value for every paid ad-$33 million has been allocated to ethnic media.

"It's a story we are enormously proud of," he said, adding that current agency Ogilvy & Mather, New York, is working with 10 minority subcontractors.

"There is $33 million going out with minority-targeted messages, whether it is minority-owned or minority-targeted" media, he said. "We are trying to deliver the impact on targeted audiences, so if you have a TV show that has double or triple the African-American viewership, you go to that show. It's the effect on the targeted audience that is guiding our effort."

Also last week, Gen. McCaffrey joined officials of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America in proclaiming initial success for the ad campaign that began in 12 test markets in January 1998 and went national at midyear.

ADS BEING SEEN

He said initial research shows the ad campaign is successfully achieving its aim of being seen by 90% of the population four times a week, and is generating increased calls to drug-problem hot lines.

Several congressmen at the hearing questioned whether messages about alcohol abuse and about tobacco use should be part of a drug-abuse effort, and promised

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