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TV industry, not feds, frowns on downing a brew

The statement

A "regulatory thing" means you can't show someone drinking beer on camera.

Heineken, Aug. 19 in a TV ad

The ruling

For all the fun you see people having in beer commercials, the one thing you won't see is someone actually drinking beer. The Dutch brewer Heineken made this the centerpiece of an ad campaign that features actor Neil Patrick Harris.

As Harris is touting the taste of Heineken Light, the video shoot jolts to a halt when Harris tips a bottle to take a sip only to find that the cap is still on. This exchange between Harris and the director follows:

Director: "Cut! Neil, you can't drink the Heineken Light. Just hold it up."

Harris: "What do you mean? Why can't I drink it?"

Director: "There are rules about drinking in the commercial."

Harris: " 'Cause it's airing during a children's program or something."

Director: "No."

Harris: "Then why?"

Director: "It's a regulatory thing. We can't actually show you drinking Heineken Light on camera."

In case you were wondering, it's not the long arm of government that's stopping people from a sip of sudsy brew. A press officer at the Federal Communications Commission, the body in charge of decency and other rules for broadcasters, said FCC rules are silent on drinking on camera.

"Congress has not enacted any law prohibiting broadcast advertising of any kind of alcoholic beverages, and the FCC does not have a rule or policy regulating such advertisements," she said, citing the agency's website.

If there's an iron fist, it belongs to the broadcasters.

Tara Rush, senior director of corporate communications at Heineken USA, said the rules come from TV networks.

"This is a regulation with the actual TV networks," Rush said. "It's a long-standing rule."

The broadcasters' trade group, the National Association of Broadcasters, has no policy itself, but a spokesman sent us articles that describe how each network is free to set its own standards and, as it stands, when it comes to beer, they frown on public displays of ingestion.

The Heineken ad alludes to this. Near the end, the director talks about network execs getting in a room to agree on a set of rules.

A spokeswoman for the Beer Institute, the voice of brewers and distributors, told us their members are loath to take chances with network policy.

"If you're putting an ad together, you will be as conservative as possible so you know it will get past all the networks," said Megan Kirkpatrick, director of communications at the institute.

Kirkpatrick said the brewers have no desire to stir things up and risk stirring a cry for a new law.

"The fact that it is self-regulated now, that's not something brewers would want to put in jeopardy," Kirkpatrick said. "It's the way they have operated for decades. You show a lot of people enjoying a football game or enjoying a baseball game, but you don't show any consumption. I don't think you're going to see that change."

We rate the claim Mostly True.

Jon Greenberg, Times staff writer

Edited for print. Read the full version at PunditFact.com.

TV industry, not feds, frowns on downing a brew 08/22/14 [Last modified: Friday, August 22, 2014 3:30pm]

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