10.18.2004 10:24 AM
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Sinclair causes political flap, but FCC refuses to intercede

As waves of controversy continue over Sinclair Broadcasting’s decision to air an anti-Kerry film on its 62 stations only days before the presidential election, the FCC’s Michael Powell said last week that the commission has no power to stop it.

Powell told the Associated Press that there was no precedent in which the commission could stop the airing of a program.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Sinclair has told its stations — many of them in political swing states such as Ohio and Florida — to air “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal.” Pennsylvania veterans opposed to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry funded the film. Sinclair will preempt regular primetime programming from the networks to show the film, which may be classified as news programming, the Times reported.

Nineteen senators wrote to Powell asking him to investigate Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to run the program only days before the Nov. 2 election. The senators termed the 90-minute program an “attack ad” against Sen. Kerry.

Separately, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission contending that Sinclair’s airing of the film should be considered an illegal in-kind contribution to President Bush’s campaign. The DNC said the program was “written, produced, and funded by extreme right-wing activists” and that the station group is going to broadcast "a blatantly political—and false—message while disguising it as ‘news.’"

The FCC’s Powell, contended the FCC does not regulate editorial decisions by media companies, and said the only federal regulations that might come into play in the wake of a broadcast is an obligation that broadcasters provide equal time to candidates in federal election campaigns. According to media reports, an offer has been made to the Kerry campaign to appear on TV after the program has aired.

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