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Clinton spins bottle at kids, seeks FCC liquor ad probe

WASHINGTON — President Clinton jumped on the wagon Tuesday, requesting that the Federal Communications Commission investigate the effects of broadcast alcohol advertising on children.

“Liquor has no business with kids, and kids should have no business with liquor,” Clinton said. “Liquor ads on television would provide a message of encouragement to drink that young people simply don’t need. Nothing good can come of it.”

The presidential statement was a dramatic boost for FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, who has been trying for months to launch an inquiry into alcohol advertising on television and radio. During an appearance at the Variety/Schroder Wertheim Big Picture media conference, Hundt welcomed the president’s intervention.

National Assn. of Broadcaster’s prexy Eddie Fritts was not as generous, even though he has urged his members to reject the ads. Numerous members of Congress have indicated it is beyond the FCC’s purview to meddle in issues related to the advertising of legal products, Fritts said.

Clinton, who had criticized the industry’s decision last year to end the voluntary ban in effect for television ads since 1948 and radio ads since 1936, told reporters that he hoped liquor manufacturers would rethink their position.

But the Clinton administration is in a tricky legal and political situation. The liquor industry maintains that it is unfair to allow beer and wine to be a mainstay advertiser on television and radio while hard liquor is banned. In an effort to get around that problem, Hundt has urged broadcasters and the cable industry to reject the hard liquor ads voluntarily. So far, only a handful of TV stations and a couple of cable networks accept such ads. Among those who do are Comedy Central and Black Entertainment Television.

“My message to the liquor industry is simple,” Hundt said. “For 50 years, you have kept the ban. It was the responsible thing to do. For the sake of our parents and our young people, please continue to keep that ban.”

Hundt added: “Barring that, we will work to find ways to respond to the decision by the distilled spirits industry. We will do what we must do to support our parents, to help them do their jobs.”

The Distilled Spirits Council, an industry group, issued a statement arguing that it was unfair and inaccurate to draw a distinction between advertising for hard liquor and for beer and wine, whose ads were not covered by the voluntary ban and have run on television for decades.

But Clinton dismissed this as a rationale for liquor advertising, saying the use of alcohol should not be promoted. “At a minimum, there should be no backsliding,” he said. “There is something to be said for not making matters worse.”

Without specifying precisely what he wanted the FCC to do, Clinton urged the agency to look into what effect the ending the ban may have, and then to study “appropriate actions.”

“I urge the commission to take all appropriate actions to explore what effects might ensue in light of the decision by manufacturers of hard liquor to abandon their longstanding voluntary ban on television advertising, specifically the impact on underage drinking,” Clinton wrote.

“I would appreciate your help and (that) of the commission in exploring the possible actions you could take to support our parents and children in response to the manufacturers’ decision to break with the long and honorable tradition of not advertising on the broadcast medium,” he said

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