Powell talks TV liquor ads

WASHINGTON — Newly installed Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Powell signaled Wednesday that he does not share the enthusiasm of some of his colleagues when it comes to taking action against hard liquor ads on TV.

In his first meeting with reporters since taking over his new job, Powell said he “personally” believes the FCC should not launch an investigation that focuses solely on hard liquor advertising.

Powell also used the opportunity to declare his political independence. Describing his own political views, Powell, the son of retired U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell, said he was a “moderate” who is “happy to call myself a Republican.” But, Powell added, “I am going to be a thoughtful person first.”

That independence was demonstrated when he announced Wednesday he would not follow the lead of FCC chairman William Kennard when it comes to broadcast advertising.

Powell said spirits advertising should be considered as one factor in the broad inquiry now being conducted by the Gore Commission into what additional public-interest obligations broadcasters owe the public in the digital age. The Gore Commission is expected to make final recommendations on broadcast public-interest obligations by the end of the year.

While Powell stopped short of arguing that the FCC does not have the authority to regulate liquor advertising, he did suggest that it might be appropriate to wait for Congress to express its opinion on the matter. “Remember, Congress can do anything,” said Powell.

In contrast, FCC chairman Kennard has said that launching an inquiry into hard alcohol advertising is one of his top priorities as the agency’s new topper.

The views of Powell and Kennard appear to be closer when it comes to broadcast ownership. Echoing Kennard, Powell said ensuring a diversity of voices in the broadcast marketplace is valid aspect of the agency’s mission.

Kennard has said he is especially concerned about the ability of minorities to maintain an ownership stake in the broadcast marketplace as the industry goes through an unprecedented era of consolidation. Kennard, who like Powell is African-American, said he is worried that minorities will not be able to compete in broadcasting if the marketplace is dominated by deep pocketed media behemoths.

Powell, who was most recently the chief of staff at the Justice Dept.’s antitrust division also noted that the pace of media mergers is “scary.”

“The reason the pace is scary is because it’s hard to keep up with and to know when to put the brakes on,” Powell said.

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