WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday rejected President Clinton’s request for a formal inquiry into hard liquor advertising on television and radio.
The FCC decision was a setback for agency chairman Reed Hundt, who has been pushing for an inquiry into hard liquor advertising since last summer, when the spirits industry dropped its decades-old ban on broadcast advertising. The commission vote on the liquor inquiry ended in a 2-2 deadlock, which means the inquiry goes nowhere.
Last April, President Clinton called for an FCC inquiry and 14 states have also asked the FCC to limit hard alcohol sales on TV.
Commissioners Rachelle Chong and James Quello objected to the fact- finding mission, claiming responsibility for regulating advertising falls to the Federal Trade Commission. Both Chong and Quello noted that the FTC is already investigating allegations that companies such as Stroh Brewing Co. are targeting underage drinkers with their advertising. Quello left the door open for an FCC investigation once the FTC wraps up its investigations.
But Hundt, along with commissioner Susan Ness, noted that the FTC investigation is narrow in scope and is not open for public participation. They argued that an FCC inquiry would have solicited comments from broadcasters, the liquor industry and public-interest advocates.
Of Chong and Quello, Hundt said Wednesday, “Why don’t they want to learn the facts and the law through a public record-making?”
Although broadcasters, including every major network, are voluntarily abstaining from liquor ads, the National Assn. of Broadcasters opposed the liquor inquiry, as did the Assn. of National Advertisers.
Broadcasters worried that any prohibition on hard liquor advertising would eventually lead to limits on beer and wine ads. Unlike the hard liquor industry, beer and wine never limited their broadcast advertising practices. The beer industry spends more than $600 million in broadcast advertising each year.
Also Wednesday, the FCC voted to formally reclaim the airwaves between TV channels 60 and 69. The FCC will reassign much of the spectrum for public safety uses such as police and fire department communications. The 73 TV stations now located between 60 and 69 will not be affected by the decision. Those stations will be allowed to remain on the air and FCC engineers promised to protect them from potential airwave interference. Any spectrum that is left over will be put on the auction block.