NBC, the US network TV company, is ditching its policy to air spirits advertising only three months after it said it would start taking such commercials.

NBC broke a 54-year-old policy to shun spirits advertising when it agreed to take commercials from drinks giant Diageo for its Smirnoff Ice brand. But the decision has received considerable criticism from the word go and NBC said pressure from Congress, a strong backlash from advocacy groups and a lack of support from rival networks had caused it to review its policy.

Despite the tough standards imposed on liquor adverts by NBC, there has still been enough concern for the decision to get debated in the US senate.

And ultimately it seems that a request from the House and Senate Commerce Committee to reconsider the network's December decision finally pushed NBC into halting its spirits ads. "We said we were going to take into account all these various points of view," said Alan Wurtzel, president NBC standards and research. "We did, and we decided we weren't going to go forward."

The spirits industry has reacted with disappointment. The Distilled Spirits Council said it believed the network had come under pressure from the beer industry - one of the highest-spending advertising sectors.

"They say they buckled under to the critics," said Frank Coleman, a spokesman for the council. "We say that too, but clearly beer wants the marketplace to itself."

In a statement the Council called NBC's move a "temporary" setback, and said the current regime to allow beer and wine advertising was "reinforcing the dangerous misperception that beer is 'soft' alcohol and spirits are 'hard' alcohol."

Diageo meanwhile said it would "continue our discussions with NBC and other networks as we remain focused on attaining equal access to the airwaves."
 
In a statement the company said its "marketing and advertising sets the highest standards of social responsibility in the industry."