NEW YORK -- FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps attacked Sinclair Broadcasting on Tuesday for its plan to force its 62 TV stations to carry a primetime documentary critical of Sen. John Kerry during the week before Election Day, calling the decision "an abuse of the public trust."
"And it is proof positive of media consolidation run amok," Copps said in a statement, "when one owner can use the public airwaves to blanket the country with its political ideology -- whether liberal or conservative."
The docu, "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," criticizes the young Kerry's political activities immediately after his service as a Swift Boat captain during the Vietnam War, when he appeared on television and before congressional committees to testify that some American soldiers committed atrocities in Vietnam.
Sinclair officials didn't return phone calls seeking comment, but the company's VP Mark Hyman has said the docu charges the North Vietnamese used Kerry's antiwar statements as an excuse to torture American prisoners of war.
Hyman said Kerry's Vietnam experiences are fair game because the candidate has pushed it to the forefront of why voters should elect him president.
But an angry Democratic National Committee has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, declaring the docu is the equivalent of a large contribution to the Bush campaign and is thus illegal under election law.
The DNC said the producer of "Stolen Honor," Carlton Sherwood, is a former Marine who served in Vietnam and in the 1980s was fired by a TV station in Washington, D.C., for a controversial report on the Vietnam War memorial. Sherwood couldn't be reached for comment.
FCC commissioner Copps' statement took Sinclair to task for long-term partisan sympathies, saying the group's ABC affiliates "refused to air 'Nightline's' reading of our war dead in Iraq." Copps added that Sinclair "short-shrifts local communities and local jobs by distance-casting news and weather from hundreds of miles away."
The broadcasting industry regards Sinclair as a maverick station group that's anything but a team player. It's one of the rare groups that doesn't belong to the National Assn. of Broadcasters, the lobbying arm of TV stations.
Other stations fear that if Kerry is elected president, a Kerry administration might try to reinstitute such long-since-abolished rules as the equal-time provision of communications law, which they say caused stations to avoid covering stories that might require on-air rebuttals from opposing groups.
The Copps statement hinted at this possibility when it said that it's "a sad fact that the explicit public-interest protections we once had to ensure balance continue to be weakened by the Federal Communications Commission while it allows media conglomerates to get even bigger."
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