The Waxman Cometh

ANA: Appointment Will Lead to 'Super-Activated' Committee

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WASHINGTON ( -- Now that Rep. Henry Waxman has been named chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, many in the media and advertising industries are wringing their hands with worry. But it's not all bad news.
Henry Waxman
Henry Waxman Credit: Scott J Ferrell

Washington media-industry observers suggest that given Mr. Waxman's California district, a hotbed of entertainment ventures that encompasses Beverly Hills, West Hollywood and Santa Monica, the new chairman might be more receptive to examining copyright issues and perhaps less apt to take on new indecency fights.

But that's about the extent of the silver lining.

Here come the crusaders?
Media and advertising groups express concern about Mr. Waxman's past efforts to curb drug and tobacco advertising. The worry is that his new post heralds an era of new advertising restrictions, especially as the House considers health legislation.

"It's not like they are replacing somebody who sat on the sidelines," said Dan Jaffe, exec VP of the Association of National Advertisers. "You have to consider that [Rep. John] Dingell was considered one of the more activist chairmen. But in the advertising sector, there is no one who has been more activist than now-Chairman Waxman."

He predicted the committee would become "super-activated."

Mr. Waxman, media observers suggest, could be more likely to examine product placement and consider limits on junk food and alcohol advertising. They caution, though, that Mr. Waxman's next move on these topics isn't clear.

Privacy may be in spotlight
Some consumer groups suggest he also could be more likely to examine privacy restrictions that would make targeted advertising more difficult for media companies and marketers.

Mr. Waxman is only one of the challenges on the horizon. The Obama administration is likely to bring in other regulators much more inclined to scrutinize media and advertising. Further, the leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee is changing hands, with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., expected to take the reins. Mr. Rockefeller declined to comment on his plans.

Mr. Waxman, who now heads the House Oversight and Investigations Committee, ousted Mr. Dingell in a 137-to-122 vote by members of the House Democratic Caucus. A Michigan Democrat with close ties to the auto industry, Mr. Dingell is the longest-serving member in the House. The change had little to do with media issues. Mr. Waxman argued that he'd be a better choice to handle energy and health-care issues.

Mr. Waxman didn't unveil an agenda, and he also declined to announce whether he would retain any of the chairs of the committee's panels. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., currently heads the panel that considers media legislation.

The observers suggested the leadership change would be felt both in the way the committee runs and the issues it takes up.

"This is going to be a huge change in style," said one media-industry official, who didn't want to be identified because he has to work with the new chairman.

Foe to tobacco, DTC
For years Mr. Waxman has been the House's most aggressive advocate of limiting tobacco advertising. He's also been hard on direct-to-consumer ads; two years ago, he and Mr. Markey proposed a three-year moratorium on campaigns for new prescription drugs. DTC had generated about $5 billion a year in advertising, but has lately been declining.

The impacts of those two issues was clearly the biggest immediate concern last week of media and ad groups, with most public comment coming from ad groups that have had the most past dealings with Mr. Waxman.

"Mr. Waxman is not a shrinking violet," said Mr. Jaffe.

Mr. Jaffe and Dick O'Brien, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said the Obama administration's push for health-care legislation would almost certainly lead the panel to examine ad curbs as part of any new laws.

While girding for a fight, their question was whether any drug-ad curbs could serve as precedents to attempts to limit other kinds of advertising. Fast food is one industry that might receive closer scrutiny; a study last week suggested that elimination of fast-food ads would reduce childhood obesity.

A second media industry lobbyist said what's not clear is whether Mr. Waxman's past focus on health issues would make him open to also examining limits on food ads or even ads for gas-guzzling cars.
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