Anti-drug effort set

White House announces $195 mil media campaign

NEW YORK — The Clinton Administration will embark in January on a concerted anti-drug media campaign that will eventually encompass television, film, print, music and the Internet.

“This initiative is an historic effort to employ the full power of the media to send the right message to our nation’s children about the pernicious nature of illicit drug use,” announced drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey.

In its initial four-month phase, the $195-million National Youth Anti-Drug effort will focus on buying ads at media outlets in 12 cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Houston and Washington, D.C. An estimated $15 million-$20 million will be spent in the initial markets, and the national rollout is expected by mid-1998.

In this first phase, the program will rely primarily on existing TV, radio and print ads produced by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America and the Ad Council. The ads are expected to run during primetime and other times “when kids are watching TV,” according to a program spokesman. The campaign will focus on kids between the ages of 9 and 17 and the adults who influence them.

Seeking major players

“We are currently in negotiations with major players in the entertainment industry to see how, together, we can use the creative power of the industry to put out the right message,” said Alan Levitt, spokesman for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Levitt said the idea is to “not only use ads as a way of reaching kids, but to get the entertainment community to address the problem” in a number of ways, including attitudes in story development.

“Drugs have often been normalized on television and in film — drug humor with a nod and wink,” Levitt said. “Our goal is to find collective measures across media that can hit kids with anti-drug messages every day.”

The government is looking for media companies to match their $195 million investment in terms of time, space and programming initiatives.

Effort draws criticism

The campaign has drawn criticism from a “loose-knit coalition” of groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Partnership for Responsible Drug Information, and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

The groups say they are concerned that the campaign will not include anti-alcohol messages. They also point to a recent California Dept. of Education-sponsored study that suggests kids don’t take the ads seriously.

“Another major concern is that there is a national debate going on in this country about how to best reduce drug use, and if the networks belong to such an effort, it’s hard to believe that their news divisions will be able to report fairly and accurately on all sides of that debate,” said Jeff Cohen of FAIR.

Reaction to the ads in the initial 12 cities will be evaluated, according to Levitt.

“Our objective is to stop kids from doing drugs and this is a bipartisan effort involving Congress, community groups, corporate America and media companies,” Levitt said. “Enlisting all of the media is the best way to change attitudes.”

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