Because a line of type was inadvertently omitted from yesterday's editions, a report on Federal Trade Commission Chairman Michael Pertschuk's views about television advertising was incorrect. Pertschuk has said that he intended to investigate the possibility of banning all television advertising aimed at children. The final three words were missing in yesterday's Business & Finance section.
Flying in the face of opposition from congressional wives, consumer groups and at least one other congressional committee, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill yesterday that would, in effect, prevent the Federal Trade Commission from banning television advertising to children in 1979.
The action was softened by a provision added by Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.) that would give the FTC the right to halt "false, unfair and deceptive advertising." But the vote was interpreted by committee members as a rebuke to FTC chairman Michael Pertschuk, who had stated publicly that he intended to investigate the possibility of banning all television advertising aimed at young children.
The measure approved yesterday, proposed by Rep. Mark Andrews (R-Md.), prohibits any FTC funds from being used to limit the advertising of any food product containing ingredients which the Food and Drug Administration has determined to be generally safe. Sugar, for instance, is in that category.
Consumer leaders contend that the language was a smokescreen to bar the FTC from moving against sugared foods, most of which are advertised to youthful consumers. The FTC has been investigating the sugar content of children's cereals and the nutritional claims of candy and confections.
White House consumer advocate Esther Peterson called the amendment "an end-run that is deceitful." She said it was clear that the food industry lobbyists had pushed for the measure as an attempt to "get at the sugar cereals investigation."
Since the amendment was drafted by the House Subcommittee on State, Justice, Commerce and Judiciary earlier this month, many groups had protested the proposal.
The wives of several congressmen joined with leaders of consumer, civic, nutrition, health and parents' groups in lobbying against such restraints.
"What we are trying to do here," said committee staffer Rob Hughes, "is to send a clear message that such a proposal to ban perfectly legal products just because they are addressed to children is not acceptable."
Hughes said the committee hopes that the language of the bill, which is the authorization of FTC funding for 1979 plus amendments, "will convince the FTC to change its thrust and allow for more reasonable comments. If the thrust is constituted with the idea of a ban as a result, then any hearings and comments will be clouded."
"I know that if my boss takes a public position, I'm going to do my darndest to sustain that opinion," Hughes said. "Someone (Pertschuk) who is supposed to be impartial has taken a public stand here, before there has even been hearings."
Pertschuk, however, appeared relieved at the inclusion of Yates' clarifying language. In a statement released after the committee vote, Pertschuk said:
"The committee apparently does not intend to halt the children's advertising inquiry. We at the commission are committed to a full, fair and open inqury.
In an interview late yesterday, Pertschuk said that it was his understanding that the only real effect of the bill would be to prevent the FTC from promulgating a final rule on trade regulation in 1979.
But Rep. Harley Staggers (D-W. Va.), who heads the House Commerce Committee objected to the Appropriations Committee action because he felt the committee acted without authority.
"The Appropriations Committee is trying to do the work of a legislative committee," he said in an interview. "And that is not right. That committee ought not to be telling the FTC what not to do, or what is morally wrong." Staggers said he would fight the amendment on the floor of the House.
"They might as well have rewritten the FTC act," said Kathleen O'Reilly of the Consumer Federation of America. Last Monday the federation organized a concerned parents' rally on the steps of the capital to oppose the legislation.
But O'Reilly said the decision to allow the investigation into false and unfair advertising to continue was a victory.