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HUNDT IN HOT SEAT

Dingell demands FCC chief justify liquor inquiry

WASHINGTON – In a letter to FCC chairman Reed Hundt, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) has asked the agency chief to justify his plans to conduct an inquiry into the hard liquor industry’s new practice of advertising on television and radio.

Dingell, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Commerce Committee, told Hundt in his letter: “Congress has never given the commission the ability to censor specific programming or advertising; to prohibit or limit broadcasters’ ability to air commercial advertising; or to prohibit or limit particular advertising of products or services legally sold in interstate commerce.”

Hundt has said in the press that he wants to conduct a formal inquiry into the effects of the hard liquor industry’s decision to drop its 50-year-old ban on broadcast advertising. Despite Hundt’s wishes, commissioners Rachelle Chong and James Quello have said they would oppose such an inquiry.

An aide to Hundt said Friday that the inquiry would seek comment from the public on questions raised about the FCC’s authority to regulate advertising. However, the aide also noted that federal courts have previously upheld the agency’s authority to regulate tobacco advertising.

In Dingell’s letter to Hundt, he asked the FCC chairman nine questions, including:

* Can the commission censor or regulate specific programming or advertising before it actually airs?

* From where does the commission derive specific authority to regulate or prohibit particular kinds of advertising?

* Do you believe it is appropriate, consistent with the First Amendment, for the commission or any commissioner to suggest, intimate or threaten that a broadcast license may be denied, conditioned, limited or not renewed on the basis of the content of otherwise lawful advertising aired or to be aired by a licensee or applicant?

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