Synopsis of "FCC Chief Hundt Urges Anti-Alcohol PSA Push"
by Ira Teinowitz Source

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Reed Hundt expressed concern about advertising for alcohol including beer and wine, according to staff writer Ira Teinowitz in an Advertising Age article entitled "FCC Chief Hundt Urges Anti-Alcohol PSA Push" (May 19, 1997, v68n20,p.6). Hundt made his remarks at a youth summit sponsored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

According to Teinowitz, Hundt proposed a "PSA antidote," which would require braodcasters to air anti-alcohol ads in reponse to paid alcohol ads. Hundt acknowledged that a total ban on alcohol ads would likely not occur, because broadcasters have become reliant on the $700 million spent annually on beer and wine advertising.

There is precedence to the FCC using PSAs to counter paid advertisements. From 1968-1970, according to Teinowitz, the FCC used a Fairness Doctrine mandating that broadcasters air one anti-tobacco ad for every four paid tobacco ads they ran. As a result, tobacco marketers in 1970 voluntarily stopped broadcast ads, an action which was then set into policy by Congress.

Teinowitz writes that Mr. Hundt did not specify a particular PSA/ad ratio, but did say that broadcsters would be required to provide the time for the ads. In his prepared speech distributed to journalists, however, he did suggest a one-for-one tradeoff for anti-alcohol PSAs and distilled spirits ads. The text of his speech also proposes that spirits marketers be required to pay for the spots.

Following Mr.Hundt's speech, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, MADD, and other groups petition asked for a "significant" number of anti-alcohol spots to air for two months.

According to Teinowitz, a spokesperson for NCADD stated that they do not support a ban on alcohol advertising. "We believe the more information out there the better," said Sarah Kayson, director of public policy. "Broadcasters are required to broadcast in the public interest, and we would argue that because they take money to advertise alcohol in the public interest, they should be requried to provide advertising that counters it."

The petition elicited attacks from broadcasters, according to Teinowitz. The Beer Institute and Anheuser-Bush quickly blasted the idea. "We applaud and support efforts to help continue the progress against drunk driving, teen drinking, and alcohol abuse... but beer advertising has nothing to do with these problems," said A-B vice president Stephen Lambright in a statement. "Study after study has shown that advertising does not cause teens to start drinking or current drinkers to drink abusively."

Hundt praised the petition, according to Teinowitz. "Yet more concerned citizens have asked the FCC to take a hard look at the issues raised by the introduction of hard-liquor advertisements on television," said Hundt, who has encouraged fellow commissioners to launch an inquiry into broadcast ads.