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NBC to pull liquor ads; critics applaud decision

WASHINGTON (BP)–NBC has retreated from its decision to telecast hard-liquor advertising, leading critics of the policy to applaud the network’s decision.

The network announced its change in plans March 20 after receiving criticism from members of Congress and various organizations, including the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, for its decision to break a half-century-old ban.

“I am delighted that NBC has decided to take the responsible action and return to the much higher moral ground of re-establishing its ban on carrying advertising for distilled spirits,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This is the kind of response to the grave concerns of the viewing public which should, and we hope will increasingly, reflect the behavior of those entrusted with the responsibility of providing news and entertainment on the nation’s airwaves.”

The liquor industry had dropped its voluntary, nearly 50-year prohibition on broadcast advertising in 1996. Some cable networks and independent stations have been showing liquor ads, but none of the broadcast networks had chosen to air such ads until NBC announced in December it would. The other broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox, UPN and Warner Brothers — maintained their ban, however.

Public health and religious organizations led the way in opposing NBC’s barrier-breaking move. In addition to the ERLC, those expressing concerns about the move included the American Medical Association, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Parent Teacher Association, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, United Methodist Church, National Association of Evangelicals, Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.

Representatives of a coalition of organizations, including the ERLC, met with NBC officials in early March in Washington to express their concerns.

Members of Congress also complained. Reps. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D.-Calif., wrote NBC and its parent company, General Electric, in December with a warning they were prepared to promote legislation that would mandate federal restrictions on liquor advertising.

“I applaud the decision of NBC to not go forward with its plans to air commercials for hard liquor,” Wolf said in a March 20 statement. “It is the right decision for the right reasons.

“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.

AMA Chairman-elect J. Edward Hill praised NBC’s action, saying in a written statement, “This decision sends a clear message that even in difficult economic times, the health and safety of our young people is worth far more than advertising dollars. The public pressure exerted on NBC sent a clear message that our nation will not tolerate exposing young people to even more dangerous influences on television. We hope all networks will continue to honor the voluntary ban that has been in place for decades.”

In announcing its decision, NBC said in a statement, according to Reuters News, “We’ve said from the beginning that we want to be responsible on this issue. We are, therefore, ending the first phase of branded social responsibility advertising on our network and will not proceed into the next phase of carrying product advertising for distilled spirits.”

NBC began running liquor ads in December from Smirnoff vodka promoting responsible drinking, according to The Washington Post. In April, those ads were scheduled to change to a typical advertising campaign, according to the report.

The ERLC encouraged Southern Baptists and others to write NBC executives expressing their gratitude for the network’s decision to pull the ads. Robert C. Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC, and Randy Falco, president of NBC, can be contacted at NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10012.