NewsBriefs BUTTONS

ABC Pledges Month of March for Anti-Drug Campaign, Public Groups Call on ABC to Be Comprehensive and Honest


February 1997

On January 8, the ABC television network announced that it will join forces with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA) and dedicate the month of March "to a major public service campaign to encourage parents to talk with their children about drugs." (ABC television network Press Release, January 8, 1997; Frederic M. Biddle, "Joining anti-drug drive," Boston Globe, January 9, 1997, p. E1).

The campaign will include hourly public service announcements around the clock all month; drug-related stories on ABC News programs; anti-drug plots incorporated into the storylines of ABC prime time series and soap operas; and a toll-free number for parents to receive more information. The campaign will climax on "ABC-D-Day," March 30, with a special town hall meeting and a "moment of silence" in which the network fades to black.

"We have a social responsibility," said ABC president David Westin, "but at the same time [we] also think this is important in positioning our network." The network has slipped from first to third in overall rating in the last seasons and is hoping to recapture family audiences. PDFA, which has been criticized as being complacent during a time of increasing adolescent drug use, also appears to be aiming to reestablish its credibility. James E. Burke, chairman of PDFA, said the public debate has moved toward what even he calls "legitimate" questions of legalizing marijuana for medical use. In addition, adolescent alcohol and tobacco use has threatened to eclipse illicit drug abuse as a public concern. The ABC campaign will not be addressing teen alcohol and cigarette use, but it might set up a structure for other substance abuse campaigns in the future, said Burke.

In a February 27 letter to Westin, a coalition of drug education and drug policy experts called on ABC to be comprehensive and honest in its anti-drug campaign. As individuals and organizations concerned about adolescent drug use, the coalition expressed concern "that ABC's collaboration with the Partnership for a Drug-Free America will not represent the full spectrum of views on drug policy options." In particular, the coalition expressed concern that: (1) PDFA decided not to run anti-alcohol or anti-tobacco ads. (2) The campaign is "orchestrated by advertisers, not educators or drug education specialists," reiterating well-meaning but ineffective methods of drug education. (3) The communication between parents and children needed to combat adolescent drug abuse might be inhibited by a zero tolerance, "just say no" message. (4) PDFA's ad campaigns seem focused on building support for the drug war, without accounting for its impact on families, erosion of civil liberties or disproportionate impact on minorities. The coalition asked ABC for an "honest appraisal of what has gone wrong and an open discussion of our options," and provided a list of individuals and organizations available to offer their expertise to ABC's campaign (Communication Works, Letter to ABC Presiden David Westin, February 27, 1997).

Contact Communication Works at (415) 255-1946 or Kevin Zeese, Esq., Common Sense for Drug Policy at (703) 354-5694.