Memorandum to Communications Press from George Hacker, Director, Alcohol Policies Project

 

DATE: June 9, 1997

RE: Public Interest Advocates Question Quello Position on Liquor Advertising

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Reed Hundt has proposed a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to gather facts and inform the public on broadcast liquor advertising. He plans to seek a Commission vote on the NOI at its June 19 meeting. Commissioner James Quello has stated that he will oppose any FCC role and has threatened to block the NOI vote.

Public health and safety advocates are troubled by Commissioner Quello's double standard in defining broadcasters' public interest responsibilities regarding indecent language versus liquor advertising that may promote underage drinking. We believe the public deserves answers to the following questions.

QUESTIONS FOR COMMISSIONER QUELLO:

1. You stated last October that you could see the FCC in an advisory role to action by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Doesn't the Notice of Inquiry provide just that advisory role given the current FTC investigations into alcohol ads?

2. In connection with indecency and obscene broadcasts, you have said that "the FCC has broad discretion in determining and implementing the public interest." Why should the FCC have any less discretion when it comes to broadcast liquor advertising that might promote illegal sales to minors? Doesn't the FCC have adequate discretion to launch an NOI to gather and report the facts related to this use of public airwaves?

3. In a 1994 speech you called Howard Stern's repeated violation of the FCC indecency rules a "serious nationwide matter," and proposed a "thorough review by a full Commission." You have acknowledged that alcoholism is a serious national problem and you have said that liquor ads that appeal to young people could raise a public interest question. Broadcast liquor advertising could add to the pressure on youth to drink and undermine Federal policy on the legal drinking age. Why are you threatening to block even a modest inquiry into this issue?

4. What would your reaction be if the networks began to carry the ads?

5. Isn't it true, that except for the liquor industry, no one knows how many stations are airing liquor ads?

Note: Though Commissioner Quello has not yet agreed to meet with the public health and safety organizations which have petitioned the FCC, he is scheduled to appear at three upcoming broadcasters' conferences:

New Jersey Broadcaster's Association Annual Convention, Atlantic City: June 9 - 10 Florida Association of Broadcasters Annual Convention, Boca Raton: June 25 - 28 Michigan Association of Broadcasters Annual Meeting, Bellaire: July 25 - 28

COMMISSIONER QUELLO QUOTED ON THE PUBLIC INTEREST RESPONSIBILITIES OF BROADCASTERS ON THE FCC PROTECTING THE PUBLIC INTEREST:

  • The FCC has broad discretion in determining and implementing the public interest.(1)
  • Substantial justice requires the FCC to serve overall public interest.(1)
  • [An overwhelming public outcry] requires responsible action by the FCC and by public service minded broadcasters.(1)
  • I believe it is antithetical to the public interest to authorize [more] gross indecency and possibly obscene broadcasts by Stern.(1)
  • This is such a serious nationwide matter that I believe final disposition of the Infinity case should involve a thorough review by a full Commission.(1)

ON LIQUOR ADVERTISING:

  • The distilled spirits industry's decision to abandon its longstanding voluntary commitment not to advertise hard liquor on TV has thrust upon government the need for responsive action.(2)
  • I tend to agree that liquor advertising, particularly ads appealing to young people, could raise a public interest question, and I would even be interested in seeing the ads.(3)
  • I think it is time for the liquor industry and broadcasters to re-activate voluntary self regulation.(3)
  • Alcoholism has always been, and remains, a profound societal problem [and] . . . has probably touched the lives of every single person in this room.(3)
  • [Regulating] televised liquor advertising . . . probably stretch[es] our jurisdiction too far. If, on the other hand, we are talking about some advisory or similarly constructive role in conjunction with action by either the FTC or Congress, then that's something else.(3)

ON THE FIRST AMENDMENT:

  • First Amendment rights were not conferred by our Founding Fathers for repulsive indecent or possibly obscene purposes.(1)
  • In [Infinity], substantial justice should ultimately prevail over any technical legalism that First Amendment purists may utilize.(1)

ON SEX AND VIOLENCE AND CHILDREN:

  • . . . I myself exhorted broadcasters on numerous occasions to voluntarily curtail the amount of gratuitous violence on broadcast TV.(3)
  • . . . Programming diversity comes with an inevitability that children will be exposed to increased levels of sex and violence. It is this aspect of television and the child audience that should be our primary concern.(4)
  • It must surely be embarrassing for First Amendment absolutists to defend [lewd] language . . . broadcast at times children and young people are in the audience.(1)

1. Commissioner Quello at the FCBA, Washington, DC, March 17, 1994.

2. Press Statement of Commissioner Quello, November 18, 1996.

3. Commissioner Quello at the Bayliss Broadcast Foundation, New York, October 30, 1996.

4. Commissioner Quello at the NAB's Children's Television Symposium, Washington, DC, September 21, 1995.