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Telemundo to Continue Airing Hard-Liquor Ads : Television: Network ignores voluntary agreement within the broadcasting industry not to air ads for distilled spirits. L.A. supervisors also request an end to the spots.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Telemundo television network plans to continue running hard-liquor advertisements despite a letter sent out this week by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors urging an end to the practice.

In sending its letter, the Board of Supervisors joined more than 50 health organizations and Latino groups that have banded together against the Spanish-language network (seen locally on KVEA-TV Channel 52). They believe Telemundo’s commercials for Presidente Brandy, which have been running since last February, pose a health threat to the Latino community, where alcohol-related problems are disproportionately high.

Another concern is that other broadcasters may follow suit.

“If Telemundo can get away with pushing liquor on a major ethnic group, then what’s to keep the rest of the industry from promoting hard liquor on the public airwaves?” wondered commissioner Ray Chavira of the Los Angeles County Commission on Alcoholism. “There’s no law that says they can’t do it.”

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Indeed, it is only an informal, voluntary agreement within the broadcasting industry that keeps advertisements for distilled spirits off the air while allowing beer and wine commercials. Similarly, members of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, the trade association representing the liquor industry, follow their own Code of Good Practice prohibiting radio and TV ads.

The purpose of both agreements is to restrict persuasive advertising messages to adult consumers, avoiding minors.

The Connecticut-based Dome Importers, which is not a member of the spirits council, claims special circumstances. In an earlier joint statement with the Telemundo Group, it argued that there is no other effective way for Dome to reach Spanish-speaking audiences and recent Latino immigrants to the United States. It pointed out that similar TV advertisements for the products Dome distributes air regularly in Latin American countries.

“It is extremely difficult for us to accept the premise that responsibly placed and produced television commercials, rather than a complex array of well-documented social issues, are the cause of alcohol-related problems in the Hispanic community,” the joint statement said.

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Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina agreed to send a letter to Telemundo based upon the recommendation of the county Commission on Alcoholism, a group appointed by the board to advise it on alcohol policy. She takes issue with Telemundo’s position that Domecq has no other way to reach its consumers.

“That’s a very disingenuous argument on behalf of Telemundo,” she said. “I think they are more concerned with the advertising dollar. They have a responsibility and a duty to follow or adhere to the broadcast standards being used by others. While they’re looking at this big need for the liquor industry to take their message out, they are neglecting their responsibility to look at the statistics regarding alcoholism in our community, particularly with our youth.”

Studies have shown that heavy drinking in the general population declines after age 30 but persists in the Latino community into middle age. Significantly more Latino men die of alcohol-related problems before age 50 than do men from other segments of the population.

Telemundo spokesman Joe Kessler said the network has no intention of halting the Domecq ads. Telemundo president Joaquin Blaya declined to comment for this story, but Kessler defended the company as a socially responsible broadcaster with strict guidelines that only permit the liquor ads to run after 10 p.m. on weeknights, when fewer young viewers are watching.

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Similarly, Dome released a statement this week defending its commitment to the responsible use of alcoholic beverages: “A recent example of that commitment is producing and airing on Telemundo a series of television commercials advocating moderate consumption and responsible use of all alcoholic beverages.”

Under Telemundo’s contract with Dome, Presidente Brandy ads are running 20 times a week through Feb. 5. After that, the ads will be off the air until a new contract begins in April with six to eight spots a week.

Telemundo trails in size and ratings to its Spanish-speaking competitor, Univision, which does not air advertisements for distilled spirits on its national network (including KMEX-TV Channel 34 here). On Dec. 30, Telemundo emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings with a $117-million debt load.

Kessler denied the suggestion that Telemundo was accepting hard-liquor ads simply to boost revenues.

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“This is not a financially motivated issue,” he said. “The level of Dome’s commitment to Telemundo is a speck of overall advertising revenues of Telemundo, considerably less than 1%. This is much more an ideological battle that we’re fighting, in terms of what we perceive to be our rights as broadcasters.”


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