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Fox in the henhouse

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Take this for irony:

    The Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is holding a “PSA Challenge” for middle schools, high schools, colleges and universities asking youth to come up with creative videos to discourage underage or high-risk drinking.

    Should ABC really be a sponsoring agency for this interaction with youth? It thinks so.

    In fact, according to a news release this week, the department hopes to capitalize “on young people’s enthusiasm for telling stories on video” in sponsoring the event.  Students are encouraged to produce 30-60 second video public service announcements with the tag line “Alcohol Has No Place…”.

    And prizes of $1,500, $500 and $300 will be awarded to the top three schools that demonstrate best creativity and communication of theme.

    “We’ve designed this competition as a fun activity addressing a serious topic,” said Joe Cannon, special agent in charge of ABC’s education team. “As part of our public safety mission, ABC is dedicated to educating students about the legal consequences and adverse effects of underage and high risk drinking. Traditionally, we’re on the production side— issuing brochures, posters and presentations; now we’re looking forward to students taking the lead and communicating their point of view.”

    But ABC is also the group that distributes the alcohol they are hoping to discourage the “high-risk” use of through these PSAs. In fact this is how the ABC Web site touts success: ABC completed Fiscal Year 2009 with a record $665.6 million in annual gross sales. The Virginia State Police seems like a more credible source for a PSA effort against "high risk" drinking.

    The PSA Challenge is like a television network promoting a “get out and play (instead of watching television)” message. There seems to be competing interests at work. But not according to ABC – the beverage control department, not the network.

    “From drama clubs to student government organizations and everybody in between, this project is relevant to any student in the Commonwealth,” said ABC Education Coordinator Marisa Harris, the “PSA Challenge” project leader. “We hope school faculty and staff will help us promote this project and create a deluge of thought-provoking PSAs produced by students.”

    Maybe folks disagree with our assessment. I mean we do often see Budweiser and other alcohol companies promoting “safe consumption” messages. It certainly should make us feel better as we see those beautiful Clydesdales strut through a winter scene with the message “Drink Responsibly” displayed on the screen. Funny though, those companies never show the real effects of alcohol abuse — the crowded jails, the broken families, the DUI deaths. The message just might come across  a bit more credible if those were included.

    Disagree? If so, the guidelines for participation in the PSA Challenge are on ABC’s Web site www.abc.virginia.gov under the heading “PSA Challenge.” ABC emphasized that sophisticated cameras, editing software and experience are not required. Entries must be postmarked no later than Feb. 26, 2010.

    Here’s hoping if folks do participate, some strong messages are sent. The fact is alcohol abuse, at any age, is no fun activity.