Capitol Hill puts a cork in NBC booze ads

Move to include hard liquor advertisements criticized by pols

WASHINGTON — Under sober direction from Capitol Hill, NBC said Wednesday that it is postponing its plan to break a self-imposed ban and air hard liquor ads.

The Peacock put the cork back in booze blurbs — at least for now — upon the request of top solons on the House Commerce Committee. No such advertising had appeared as the net was in the middle of a self-imposed public service blitz preceding any liquor commercials.

Network television’s ban on hard liquor spots has always been voluntary (beer and wine commercials are aired).

Commerce Committee chair Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.) was among those asking NBC to backtrack, even though the net’s plan is probably constitutionally sound, since commercial speech is protected.

“But from a public perception and public acceptance standpoint, clearly, the Earth was beginning to shake. More and more people on Capitol Hill were openly grumbling about the decision to air liquor ads, and we simply asked NBC to reassess its position,” said top Tauzin aide Ken Johnson.

In a statement, NBC said it had agreed to do so. “We’ve said from the beginning that we want to be responsible on this issue,” net said.

Thus far, no other network has followed NBC’s cue and publicly announced it would accept booze ads.

The Peacock didn’t say when it would resurrect the liquor ad plan, first announced in December — only that it would be meeting with various public health and other interested groups.

Net stressed again that it had devised 19 stringent rules governing hard liquor ads, including that anyone appearing in the spots be over 30 years of age and that the ads not run before 9 p.m.

“Our standards were indeed high,” the net said. “NBC prohibited drinking in the ads, glamorization of alcohol and any suggestion that drinking is a rite of passage or that distilled spirits will enhance anyone’s attractiveness, personal relationships or sexual prowess.”

Peacock said the net’s guidelines help to establish a standard, considering that there are no rules governing distilled spirit advertising on cablers.

Johnson said he doubted NBC would resume the course this year since there are enough angry lawmakers ready to introduce legislation. Even if such legislation didn’t hold up in court, it could pose trouble for the net.

Critic seeks reversal

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a Commerce Committee member, was among the strongest opponents of the liquor ad campaign.

“By reversing course, I truly believe NBC will be helping to save lives. Too many people are already killed by drunk drivers every day, and I was concerned that commercials on network TV promoting hard liquor could ultimately lead to more tragic accidents, especially involving young people,” Wolf said.

Groups opposing NBC’s plan include the American Medical Assn.

This morning, Mothers Against Drunk Driving will hold a press conference on Capitol Hill asking that beer and wine ads carry the same sort of restrictions that NBC proposed for liquor blurbs. Hence, some congressional insiders are wondering whether the Peacock has inadvertently opened up a Pandora’s box.

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