Hundt reasserts FCC role in liquor ad fight

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Reed Hundt, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, insisted in a speech on Tuesday that the FCC has jurisdiction over hard liquor ads on TV. His comments contradict FCC Commissioner James Quello, who issued a statement Monday saying that the FCC has no jurisdiction in the matter.

"If the public interest would be served by our inquiry into the use of the airwaves by the hard liquor industry and broadcasters who carry their ads, then we have no excuse for inaction," Mr. Hundt said in a speech before the Children's Action Network in Los Angeles. "There is no doubt whatsoever about the FCC's jurisdiction in this area.

He then called on TV stations and cable companies to refuse the ads.

"No one has a constitutional or legal obligation to take the hard liquor industry money for advertising time."

Mr. Hundt added that if broadcasters and cablecasters continued taking the ads, "the second line of defense for protecting the public interest against hard liquor ads on TV is government action. ... The FCC has a legal obligation to consider any and all actions."

If the government does move on the hard liquor question, Mr. Hundt said, the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission "could conduct parallel or joint inquiries, investigations and hearings. We should also receive guidance from congressmen and senators."

Turning his attention to the distillery industry, Mr. Hundt said, "the hard liquor companies have gotten away with their new tactics in foreign countries, but it shouldn't happen here." In the U.K., for example, the distillers broke their 40-year self-imposed ban on TV advertising last year.

Finally, Mr. Hundt made a reference to Montreal-based Seagram Co., the company that has led the way in placing hard liquor ads on TV in the U.S.

"The large, foreign conglomerates that dominate the hard liquor industry are far from broke; they just want to make more money."

Mr. Hundt did not address the issue of what makes hard liquor different from beer and wine; the latter have been advertising on TV for years.

Separately: Argyle Television, which owns seven TV stations, has decided not to take hard liquor ads. "Clearly, there are two sides to this issue," said Barry Byrne, Argyle president, in a statement. "However, we believe that using the world's most powerful advertising medium for the carrying of hard liquor advertising could lead to its increased usage by impressionable, underage teenagers and children." Argyle owns ABC stations in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Honolulu; Jackson, Miss.; Fort Smith, Ark.; and Fayetteville, Ark. It also owns the NBC affiliate in Buffalo and the Fox station in Providence.

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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