To shield youth, Clinton seeks ban on hard liquor ads on radio, TV Proposal enrages industry since FCC isn't asked to bar advertising for beer, wine

April 02, 1997|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Saying he wants to protect children, President Clinton urged the Federal Communications Commission yesterday to consider "any and all actions" to keep hard liquor advertising off television and radio.

"Liquor has no business with kids -- and kids have no business with liquor," Clinton said in an appearance at the White House. "Liquor ads on television would provide a message of encouragement to drink that young people simply don't need. Nothing good can come of it."

Since the end of Prohibition, distillers have avoided such pressure because of their self-imposed ban against broadcasting ads. That ban was first applied to radio, and then, in 1948, to the new medium of television.

But facing declining sales as well as aggressive ad campaigns by the beer industry, the nation's spirit makers decided last year to lift their ban. The first ads, produced for Seagram's, were aired in Texas in November.

"Our industry has been in a major decline, and we are at a competitive disadvantage with beer and wine," said Don Coe, head of business development for Hiram Walker.

Alcohol awareness groups have long complained about alcohol advertising that appears to be aimed partly at young people. But their primary concern has been the beer advertising broadcast during sporting events watched by young men and boys.

Yesterday, the president was peppered with questions about why he was singling out distilled spirits.

"Why make things worse?" the president said. "Why backslide? I think there is a very powerful argument for doing no harm."

This answer hardly satisfied the liquor companies.

"What we take issue with is being isolated, that spirits are somehow different from beer or wine," said Elizabeth Board, a spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. She said about $2.5 billion in beer ads have aired since Clinton took office. "He has never said anything about that," Board said.

The driving force behind restoring the ban has been the chairman of the FCC, Reed E. Hundt, who has successfully urged the networks to reject liquor ads after the industry lifted its self-imposed ban.

The FCC is evenly divided on the issue: Two of the four commissioners believe that the FCC should not be involved in it. But there are two vacancies scheduled to be filled by Clinton later this spring, and both sides presume he will appoint commissioners who share his views. But the industry vowed it would not submit to regulation without a fight.

"Alcohol is alcohol," said Fred A. Meister, president of the Distilled Spirits Council. "To examine just one form of alcohol is unsupportable on both public policy and legal grounds."

Yesterday's effort by Clinton to pressure an industry to put social responsibility ahead of profit -- and to face government regulation if it does not -- is the latest in a series of similar efforts. Each time, the president has stressed the potential damage to children as a way of building support for his stance.

Clinton invoked children when signing legislation mandating a V-chip that would screen out violent programming in television. And he used children as the hook when proposing a vast new regulatory system regarding the way tobacco products are sold and marketed.

"Our parents face enormous pressures today, greater than ever before, and they need our help as they try to guard their children from harmful influences," Clinton said yesterday. "It's a fact that popular culture is not always popular with parents because it's not always good for their children."

The distillers replied that it is unfair and inaccurate to imply that they have targeted children.

When repealing their self-imposed ban on broadcasting advertising last year, they point out, the distillers enacted 22 new provisions expressly designed to bar ads aimed at young people. These include bans on cartoon characters such as Joe Camel, models under 25 years old and ads that equate drinking with social success.

"I don't think any politician can lose a vote saying they're on the side of kids, but I would lose my job tomorrow if I initiated any marketing campaign aimed at motor sports, for example," Coe said.

Pub Date: 4/02/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.