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Anti-Kerry film airs after FCC declines to take action

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Anti-Kerry film airs after FCC declines to take action

  • Federal Communications Commission declined last week to censor an anti-Kerry film, saying doing so would violate the First Amendment.

Oct. 26, 2004 — Friday, one day after the Federal Communications Commission said it would not censor a controversial anti-Kerry film, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest group of television stations, broadcast the program.

Blocking the program would have been “an absolute disservice to the First Amendment” and “unconstitutional,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell told Broadcasting & Cable Thursday.

The FCC cannot regulate editorial decisions of media companies, the agency said in response to top two Democrats on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce who asked the FCC to intervene.

Powell told the magazine that the commission would look into the issue, but added: “There is no rule that I’m aware of that would allow the Commission — nor would it be prudent — to prevent the airing of a program. And the only rules that I’ve heard in any way possibly implicated are equal time, which merely means that the licensee would have to offer the other side an opportunity to respond. And, at least according to press reports, that opportunity has been provided.”

Reps. John D. Dingell (Mich.) and Edward J. Markey (Mass.) wrote the FCC Oct. 13 after learning through press reports that Sinclair Broadcasting had directed station managers at its 62 television stations to pre-empt network broadcasting and instead show a film titled “Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal.” The congressmen asked the commission to investigate the matter and take appropriate action.

Dingell and Markey stressed the importance of ensuring that mistakes — such as those made by CBS when it reported about apparently false documents concerning President Bush’s record during the Vietnam War — do not happen again. “That incident has re-emphasized the need to ensure that broadcasters air accurate and balanced information about candidates seeking elected office,” they wrote. “Airing programming such as ‘Stolen Honor’ just days before the Election Day is to us, and many of our colleagues in Congress, inconsistent with the public interest that broadcasters are licensed to serve.”

The film features former prisoners of war attacking Sen. Kerry for his conduct during the Vietnam era. The film charges that Kerry’s protests against the Vietnam War in the 1970s were used by the North Vietnamese to demoralize U.S. POWs. Mark Hyman, Sinclair on-air editorialist and vice president of corporate relations, defended the company’s intention to use the film. “Clearly John Kerry has made his Vietnam service the foundation of his presidential run,” Hyman told The New York Times . “This is an issue that is certainly topical.”

“If Kerry came on our program, he would have an opportunity to make a statement that could be very statesmanlike and sway a lot of undecided people,” Hyman told Broadcasting and Cable .

On Oct. 19, Sinclair Broadcast Group decided that it would not air the highly criticized film in its 42-minute entirety, but would instead run a portion of it as part of a program examining the use of such documentaries to influence elections, the Associated Press reported.

The broadcast giant, which reaches about one-quarter of all American households, did not end up forcing all 62 of its stations to pre-empt network programming to air the film. The program aired Friday on 40 of the company’s stations.


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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