|June 2, 1997
The Honorable James H.
Re: Children and Broadcast Alcohol Advertising
We write to strongly urge you to support a Notice of Inquiry to explore the Commission's role in the alcohol advertising controversy and develop a factual record that will inform the industry, Congress, and other agencies about potential means to protect children from an expansion of advertising messages that encourage them to drink. This FCC inquiry is the most practical and viable means to gather crucial information, from the public and industry, and determine an appropriate course of agency action. Current developments, including the growing likelihood that liquor advertising will soon expand in the broadcast media, make this matter most urgent.
On April 24, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), joined by 240 organizations representing over 30 million citizens from every state, petitioned the FCC to examine the effects on children of radio and television advertising for all forms of alcoholic beverages. As you know, that petition asked merely that the Commission begin to gather evidence and determine whether broadcasters' airing alcohol ads that reach millions of children and teens raises questions that the FCC should address.
In asking the Commission to explore important public interest issues that go to the core of its responsibility to regulate the airwaves for the people of this country, CSPI's request echoed earlier similar entreaties from more than a dozen governors, two dozen members of Congress, and the President of the United States. All of those requests have one thing in common: concern for the tens of millions of young people who are now threatened by a potential explosion of new alcohol ads on television and radio that will encourage them to drink.
The proposed Notice of Inquiry to investigate the impact of opening the airwaves to liquor, as well as beer and wine advertising, presents an ideal opportunity for the Commission to determine its jurisdiction and probe the need for defining the public interest responsibilities of broadcasters that air commercials for alcoholic beverages. No other agency of government can perform those functions as well as the Commission itself.
In November of last year, you called for Congress to take the lead on broadcast advertising of alcohol, and to address the issue as a legislative priority. The Congress has not begun to consider legislation, hearings or any sort of investigation. In the meantime, Seagram and other liquor ads spill ever more broadly onto radio and television and the lead industry association, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, has refused to return to its long-standing voluntary ban on broadcast liquor ads. The pressure on kids to drink can only increase, unless you join your colleagues in beginning a process to determine just what the Commission can do to ensure responsible broadcast standards.
Regarding alcohol advertising, you have asserted that "this is neither the time, the place, nor the controversy for this Commission to try and learn about such matters." We ask you now to make it the business of the FCC to learn about alcohol advertising. No other agency regulates broadcasting to serve the public interest. No other agency, and certainly not this Congress, is going to act in time to save millions of children from the predations of new alcohol advertisers. No other government body is better positioned to act on our modest request that the Commission undertake to gather the facts and hear from the public and industry on this issue.
You have had a long and productive tenure at the Commission. What better legacy to leave the industry and the public than to have laid the groundwork for responsible broadcast alcohol-advertising standards that serve the best interests of children and the public?
George A. Hacker