Friday, October 15, 2004

Equal Time

Sinclair Broadcasting owns 62 local televison stations throughout the US. They are affiliated with several (perhaps all) of the broadcast networks. Some of their stations are in key battle ground states for the upcoming election. So why should we care?

We should care because Sinclair, like Newscorp and Clear Channel, has a lot of media clot and no scruples when it comes to abusing its power. Sincliar plans to preempt prime time programing to broadcast without commercials a doccumentary called "Stolen Honor" which is highly critical of John Kerry's anti war protests when he returned from Viet Nam. The doccumentary is a blatant hit piece masqurading as news, directed by a former aide to Homeland Defense secretary Tom Ridge. Sinclair, which earlier this year refused on its ABC stations to air a doccumentary showing he flag draped coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq, insists that it has every right to broadcast the anti-Kerry doc because it is "newsworthy."

They are hypocrites. They have no news division, and yet they claim to be journalists. They obviously have an agenda, and yet they hide behind the "objectivity" of news broadcasting.

The central argument of Stolen Honor is that Mr. Kerry's protest ammounted to treason, gave aid and comfort to the enemey, emboldened North Viet Nam and, perhaps most damning, encouraged the North Viet Namese to keep American POWs longer then they otherwise would have, submitting them to continued torture and, in some cases, causing their deaths--the blame for which the film lays squarely at Mr. Kerry's feet (this according to press releases, no one has actually seen the film or heard the arguments yet). Last week a vice president of Sinclair compared the broadcast network's to Holocaust deniers for not taking up the issue of Kerry's complicity in the deaths of American POWs. This earned him a well deserved rebuke from the Anti Defamation league.

The issues here are numerous. This large media conglomerate is using its ownership in a blantant attempt to affect the outcome of the election. Television news is supposed to be objective but here is a station owner abusing his influence. Also, under FCC regulations, stations are supposed to offer equal time to candidates for election when broadcasting something critical of them. Sinclair says it did this by offering Mr. Kerry a seat on a pannel which would discuss the film for fifteen minutes following its broadcast. FCC chairman Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, said this was sufficient, as though fifteen minutes in a forum where Mr. Kerry was sure to be attacked by other panelists could counter a two hour doccumentary. The DNC has taken action against Sinclair claiming that by broadcasting the film wthout commercials it ammounted to an in kind contribution to the Bush campaign, barred by campaign finance laws. Calculating the revenue from lost prime time commercials on 62 local stations, the dollar ammount is huge. None of this seems to matter to the appointed republicans who control the FCC.

Finally, as a current and former FCC comissioner, both Democrats, have said, this is an example of media consolidation run amok. For years critics have been saying that de-regulation allowing people or corporations to own several different stations in different markets concentrated media, including news, editorial opinion and access to information in too few hands. Just as Clear Channel was able thoruhg its broad radio station ownership to censor Howard Stern and the Dixie Chicks, so too Sinclair is able to use its ownership of 62 television stations to spread the politicl opinion of its executives and directly attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential campaign. We are supposed to have laws to protect us against this kindof thing, but the FCC is obviously in the pocket of the Republican Party and the lion has no teeth. Given the outrage over a mistake by Dan Rather in not authenticating some doccuments in a story about President Bush, you would think conservatives who were calling for Mr. Rather to be fired would be equally outraged about Sinclair's actions, but they couldn't be happier--proving that they are hyporcites as well and that, in this case at least, it has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with the truth.

So I have a solution: Sinclair runs Stolen Honor in prime time without commercial interuption just like they want to, but the next night they have to run Farenheit 9/11.


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