Hundt, FCC press liquor TV ad fight

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt expanded his attack on televised liquor advertising last week even as a business-oriented foundation accused him of "bullying."

Mr. Hundt, in a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics, described Seagram Co.'s decision to break a longstanding industry code against broadcast advertising as a Halloween trick.


"Halloween," Mr. Hundt said, "is supposed to be one of the best nights of the year for kids. But in some markets there's something real to be afraid of this year. Halloween is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year, and to boost sales even higher, some broadcasters have started carrying distilled spirits advertising for the first time in my lifetime."

Mr. Hundt called on the pediatricians' group to join the fight against spirits TV advertising.

"We need your help to guarantee that every child has reasonable protection from the media's capacity to do harm--whether by showing too much violence or failing to help us educate our kids or advertising hard liquor to an audience of children."

Mr. Hundt's comments came shortly after FCC Chief of Staff Blair Levin sent letters to Telemundo Group and four TV stations asking for information on the distilled spirits advertising they were reportedly running.

The Washington Legal Foundation, a business-oriented legal group, called the letters "jawboning."


"He's obviously trying to build a case," said Glenn Lammi, chief counsel of the foundation's legal studies division. "It's definitely legal, but it's in the fine tradition of an enforcement agency jawboning before acting. Here, though, what he is jawboning about is protected by the First Amendment. I think he is bullying."

In a letter to Mr. Hundt, the foundation said the U.S. Supreme Court had made it clear that truthful advertising of a legal product is protected under the First Amendment and contended that "there is little or no credible evidence" suggesting broadcast advertising of distilled spirits would have any effect on alcohol abuse by the young.

One of the TV stations contacted, KRIS-TV, an NBC affiliate in Corpus Christi, Texas, said it planned to continue running its schedule of ads for Seagram's Chivas Regal and Crown Royal.

"We don't feel we have done anything improper," said Bob White, station manager.

Seagram last week said it still hasn't been contacted by the FCC and defended the decision to advertise on TV.


"We believe strongly that the voluntary advertising ban that marketers of distilled spirits imposed first on radio and then on television in the '30s and '40s is no longer appropriate," Seagram President-CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. told the company's annual meeting in Montreal last week.

"We have limited advertising in some U.S. markets, and we're going to continue to advertise responsibly and carefully," he told reporters later.

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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