FCC Chief Shouldn't Let Opposition to Liquor Ads Dry Up

Article excerpt

Not with a bang but a whimper. That's how Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt's campaign against hard-liquor ads on television appears to be ending.

Faced with blistering criticism from two of his principal and persistent congressional overseers - Reps. John Dingell, Michigan Democrat, and W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, Louisiana Republican - Mr. Hundt has apparently decided not to pursue vigorously any investigation of the liquor industry's decision to end a voluntary ban on TV and radio advertising.

"We don't have a consensus now at the commission or on the Hill about what the commission's next step will be. There may not be that much left to talk about," one of Mr. Hundt's aides, Julius Genachowski, said at a recent gathering of local TV executives, according to a report in Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

Mr. Dingell had given the FCC chairman until the end of this month to explain why the FCC wanted to investigate the liquor industry's decision to drop its voluntary ban on TV ads and why he believed the FCC even had the authority to challenge the liquor ads on TV in the first place.

"I find curious your public assertions that the Commission can regulate broadcast advertising of beverage alcohol," Mr. Dingell wrote the FCC chairman Jan. 2.

Mr. Tauzin, the chairman of the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee, likewise had been sharply critical of the FCC chairman's decision to investigate the liquor ad issue, saying he was "deeply troubled" by Mr. Hundt's comments on liquor ads and that the FCC did not have the authority to look into the issue.

Staring down both of those congressional barrels, it looks like Mr. Hundt has chosen to simply let the matter fade away quietly. There will be no FCC investigation. Liquor ads on TV will march forward. Which is too bad. Mr. Hundt was just starting to become my hero.

Mr. Hundt gave it the old college try, at least - which is more than can be said about the rest of official Washington, which responded to the liquor ads by running for cover as it continues to take donations from beer, wine and hard-liquor companies.

The FCC chairman used his bully pulpit to urge local television stations to follow the lead of the four big networks in maintaining a ban on hard-liquor advertising. He asked TV stations to provide information on liquor ads they're running. And he used some pretty harsh language in describing the liquor ads at a time when most public officials were looking the other way as the ads started to appear on TV.

"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. …