Editorial: Ad Council, FCC can settle dispute

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Facing possible war and a shaky economy, it seems incredible that Congress might be called on to settle a fracas between the Advertising Council and the Federal Communications Commission. How to disclose that the federal government has purchased time and space for public service messages from Ad Council-supported private organizations is hardly a top Capitol Hill priority. Together, the Ad Council and FCC should solve this.

FCC enforces the federal law requiring that the identity of sponsors on TV and radio be disclosed. The Ad Council should respect that law. But the FCC should concede little is served by unnecessarily tying messages from private organizations, especially long-established youth programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scouts, to "sponsorship" by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

True, the groups are getting media exposure under the federal government's anti-drug-abuse ad program. Managed by the White House drug office, the program buys $150 million worth of media a year. Media companies on the "buy" list are required to "match" the amount of media bought by Uncle Sam with an equal amount of "free" time or space for additional messages. Much of the program's total time and space is used for ads directly created for the government. But the White House, via the Ad Council, also makes advertising time and space available for public service messages from private groups, especially those whose youth-oriented programs contribute to the overall objective of keeping young people drug-free. It's not surprising or unreasonable that these groups want no part of being labeled as "sponsored" by the White House drug office.

A brief statement, such as "Media time for this message paid for by the U.S. government," would meet the law's objective, not interfere with ad creative and not complicate the work of good social programs. This dispute should be settled, and quickly.

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