Sinclair Broadcasting's decision to use public airways to broadcast a film that attacks Sen. John Kerry has been discussed in newsrooms across the country. Pundits have weighed in on both sides of the issue.
The controversy is over the use of public airwaves (public TV, not cable) to broadcast a politically-inspired film on the eve of the election. The fact that the film is an extension of commercials which have been thoroughly discredited by reporters and fact-checkers also has a bearing on the broadcast. This action also reflects a major shift in the relationship between TV station owners and those who manage programming - both news and entertainment. (see the movie, Network) Then there is the media consolidation angle.
This three-part article provides excerpts from editorials, commentary and news/feature reports.
(Minneapolis) Star Tribune (12 Oct 2004)
If the stunt that Sinclair Broadcasting Group is pulling isn't against the law, it ought to be. Sinclair, owner of more American television stations than any other company, has ordered all 62 of its holdings -- which collectively reach a quarter of American households -- to suspend normal programming for one evening just before the upcoming presidential election. The stations are instead to air a one-hour conservative diatribe against Sen. John Kerry. This is a flagrant and cynical abuse of the public's airwaves for a partisan political purpose, an action that should put Sinclair's federal broadcast licenses in jeopardy. For comparison, imagine that WCCO's owner, CBS, ordered it to broadcast Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Boston Globe (15 Oct 2004)
THE FILM "Stolen Honor -- Wounds that Never Heal" is an anti-Kerry attack ad masquerading as a documentary. If the Sinclair Broadcasting Group televises it as planned on its 62 stations next week, this will constitute an abuse of the public airwaves that should prompt an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission...
Mandating that it run next week would be comparable to running Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" without giving President Bush a fair chance to respond.
Sinclair uses public airwaves at nominal cost for the FCC license. This cut-rate privilege ought to be accompanied by a commitment to public responsibility.
Sacramento (CA) Bee (15 Oct 2004)
The whole episode raises issues of journalistic fairness and efforts to regulate fairness on this public asset - the nation's airwaves. Fairness is now rarely a concern of the Federal Communications Commission. It once was. But the Fairness Doctrine, an attempt at mandating a balance of views, was abolished by the Reagan administration in 1987. The term doesn't even exist in the FCC's current glossary of technological terms...
Part of the reasoning for abandoning the Fairness Doctrine was to shift the burden from the government to everyday citizens to filter through the commentary. What's new and unique about this Sinclair case is how big the chain is (a trend unleashed by deregulation) and how close the film's airing comes to the election. Statesmanship has given way to relentless waves of accusations and diversions to nonissues.
Charleston (W.VA) Gazette (15 Oct 2004)
Since the airwaves are owned by the people, the government awards licenses for broadcasters to use various frequencies and the licensees are expected to serve the whole public impartially...
Now Sinclair has ordered all stations to broadcast a smear about Democratic nominee John Kerrys opposition to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The program features some veterans who also appear in attack ads by a Republican-funded Swift Boat group. One accuses Kerry of treason. A Web site for the show alleges that Kerry has a record of betrayal.
This is astounding. Just before the election, a nationwide television chain is throwing all its power into the Republican campaign, using an unfair smear created by a reporter of the right-wing Washington Times.
Millions of Americans from both parties opposed the Vietnam War four decades ago. This show implies that theyre also guilty of treason and have a record of betrayal.
Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel (15 Oct 2004)
But it is the right of the newspaper or TV outlet to publish or broadcast any story it deems worthwhile and fit to run. And this right should be cherished by all citizens, no matter their partisan tilt.
Wisconsin State Journal (15 Oct 2004)
Fight speech with speech, and let the best show, er, candidate, win.
South Brunswick (NJ) Post (15 Oct 2004)
In the meantime, rather than shutting down Sinclair, liberals should fight fire with fire. They should petition Sinclair and owners of other television stations in Sinclair's markets and elsewhere to broadcast Michael Moore's anti-Bush film "Fahrenheit 9/11" or "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," a more flattering portrait of the senator's service in the war and involvement in the anti-war movement afterward.