WASHINGTON FCC Chairman Reed Hundt may be trodding on the First Amendment rights of broadcasters by urging them to refuse advertising from the hard liquor industry, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. prexy Fred Meister said Tuesday.

“It may be a very chilling effect when you have a (government) regulator telling you not to accept advertisements,” said Discus’ Fred Meister. Meister was speaking a forum sponsored by the Media Institute, a D.C.-based First Amendment think tank.

“We believe he is coming very close to calling for a boycott which we believe is a violation of the law,” said Meister.

A source close to Hundt shot back that Meister needed to take another look at the First Amendment. “The chairman of the FCC has First Amendment rights and so do broadcasters,” said the source, “Suggesting that broadcasters have a first amendment right not to run advertisements that could be harmful to kids is both legal and responsible.”

Hundt has been urging broadcasters to reject the ads ever since Discus dropped its 50-year-old voluntary ban on broadcast advertisements earlier this year.

Also attending Meister’s speech was the FTC’s Jodie Bernstein, director of the bureau for consumer protection. Bernstein confirmed for first time that her agency has issued subpoenas to both Joseph Seagram Ltd. and Stroh Brewery. The subpoenas were issued because the FTC is looking into allegations that both companies are targeting ads to a young audience that has not yet reached legal drinking age.

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