July 9, 1997
Today, the votes of two Commissioners prevent this agency from initiating an inquiry on broadcast liquor advertising. We have been asked to look into the matter by a dozen States, a bipartisan group of 26 Members of Congress, scores of public interest, parent, and community organizations, and even the President of the United States. I am willing to respond positively to their requests.
Adoption of the proposed Notice of Inquiry would have commenced a process in which all interested parties could have debated all of the relevant issues, openly and publicly. Instead, what should have been a robust debate has been foreclosed, at least at this time and in this venue, before the process of seeking public comments has even begun. Neither the First Amendment nor the Communications Act is well served when debate is suppressed.
The proposed Notice of Inquiry is responsible, responsive, and restrained. It embodies no findings of fact, no tentative conclusions, and no proposals for regulatory action. A variety of measures have been proposed by various organizations, but the Notice wisely does not prejudge the desirability of any of these proposals or the Commission's legal authority to adopt them. I cannot understand how anyone could conclude -- with no public record and no participation by interested parties -- that the Commission cannot even conduct an inquiry without violating the Communications Act or the Constitution.
Parents' organizations and others concerned with alcohol abuse have come to us, not because they think we have special expertise on the subject of alcohol abuse, but because they recognize the power of television in everyday life and they know that the FCC is tasked with assuring that broadcasters serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity. To these people, the issue of broadcast liquor advertising is unquestionably within the purview of the FCC. I agree.
It has been alleged that the proposed inquiry would "duplicate" the work of the Federal Trade Commission. Not so. While unconfirmed news reports indicate that the FTC has confidential, company-specific investigations under way, these proceedings do not provide an opportunity for widespread public participation, do not create a public record, and do not fully ventilate the panoply of relevant legal and public policy issues. No agency other than the FCC can provide (or has been asked to provide) the kind of forum that will permit a full discussion of these issues.
The controversy over liquor advertising on television will not disappear. The many, many voices calling for us to look into the issues will not be silenced, and I do not doubt that citizens will continue to look to the Commission to provide a forum in which all parties will be permitted to present the facts and arguments they believe to be relevant. In my judgment, we can and should provide that forum.