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Liquor ads have free rein on cable TV

Cable television has no apparent restrictions when it comes to advertising. Unlike broadcast television, there are no federal watchdog agencies or federal laws governing alcohol advertisements on cable.

There is no cable TV advertising code, according to Shar Beales, director of research at the National Cable Television Association: ''Cable is a private business. The subscriber invites us into his home, and the editorial content of the commercials can match the content of the programs.''

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Nonetheless, some states have laws challenging this codeless status. For instance, a beer ad appeared on a national cable sports network, in spite of an Oklahoma law forbidding alcoholic beverage ads in the local media, both broadcast and local print. When officials tried to enforce the law, local cable operators went to court. The state law was ruled unconstitutional by the Federal District Court of Oklahoma. The Federal Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, reversed the decision. The case now sits among a stack of petitions filed for potential hearing before the United States Supreme Court.

Even the voluntary alcoholic-beverage-industry advertising codes, which are applied to television broadcasting, don't seem to apply to cable television. The beer-industry code prohibits the portrayal of actual drinking in television ads. However, a recent Center for Science in the Public Interest study says a commercial showing a young man downing Budweiser beer has appeared on MTV, the cable rock-music channel.

Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch is preparing to capitalize on cable's sports audience. The brewery is working on a cable TV deal that would give the company exclusive advertising rights to college basketball games in six Midwestern states. The beer company, jointly with Telecommunications Inc., also plans to launch its own cable sports network by next April.

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