Groups want IDs on PSAs

MAP, NORML petition to have antidrug ads name government as sponsor; Ad Council, MADD, others oppose the move

A White House antidrug program that embarrassed networks after revealed that TV scripts were being submitted for government approval continues to cause controversy.

Media Access Project (MAP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) are asking the FCC to insist that any TV PSAs list the Office of National Drug Control Policy as a sponsor when they are aired as part of a program matching broadcasters' donated PSA time with government-paid ads.

At the heart of their concern is the government's $1 billion, five-year program for buying antidrug TV ads.

Concerned that the infusion of paid ads would lead TV stations to eliminate time donated for traditional PSAs, Congress required participating stations to match the government-bought time when it approved the program in 1998. As a substitute for PSAs, participating broadcasters were allowed to receive matching credit when programs contained antidrug messages. The networks stopped seeking script approvals after the practice was exposed.

Qualifying PSAs must be picked from a slate of ads approved by a government/private-sector task force. The ads feature complementary themes, such as fighting violence, alcohol abuse and crime prevention.

"Speech purchased with public funds is government speech," MAP said in a filing.

The Ad Council, which produces and distributes PSAs to broadcasters and print publications, asked the FCC to exempt matching PSAs from the disclosure requirement in March. It says the ads have nothing to do with the White House's antidrug theme and identifying them as such would confuse viewers.

Joining the council are 25 PSA sponsors, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Girl Scouts and frequent MAP ally The Benton Foundation.