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Anti-Kerry film sparks DNC response
Sinclair Broadcast Group orders its 62 stations to show movie next week; DNC files complaint to FEC.
October 12, 2004: 1:03 PM EDT
By Katie Benner, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Sinclair Broadcast Group, owner of the largest group of television stations in the nation, plans to air a documentary that accuses Sen. John Kerry of betraying American prisoners during the Vietnam War, a newspaper reported Monday.

The reported plan prompted the Democratic National Committee to file a complaint against Sinclair with the Federal Election Commission.

Sinclair has ordered all 62 of its stations to air "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal" without commercials in prime-time next week, the Washington Post reported, just two weeks before the Nov. 2 election.

Sinclair's television group, which includes affiliates of all the major networks, reaches nearly a quarter of all U.S. television households, according to the company's Web site. A dozen of Sinclair's stations are in the critical swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Affiliates owned by the major television networks reach a larger percentage of U.S. homes because they are in the largest markets.

This is the first time the DNC has filed a legal motion against a media organization, said group spokesman Jano Cabrera. Earlier this year, said a DNC statement, Sinclair-owned stations refused to air DNC ads criticizing President Bush.

The complaint to be filed with the FEC states it is inappropriate for the Sinclair Broadcasting Group to air partisan propaganda in the last 10 days of an election campaign, said Cabrera.

No one from the FEC was available to comment on the DNC complaint.

"We have received thousands of e-mails, people outraged by the very idea a company like Sinclair would direct stations to air a partisan film," said Wes Boyd, founder of left-leaning political group,

"If they do air a partisan film, we'll challenge the FCC and the licenses of the local stations that broadcast the film because local stations have a responsibility to the community to air real news, not partisan messages," said Boyd.

The company made news in April when it ordered seven of its ABC-affiliated stations not to air a "Nightline" segment that featured a reading of the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq; a Sinclair executive called that broadcast "contrary to the public interest."

Campaign violation?

A Bush campaign spokesman said the camp has nothing to do with Sinclair Broadcasting, the anti-Kerry film or Sinclair's plan to air the film just before this year's tight election.

Sinclair executives have shown support for the Bush campaign. Sinclair CEO David Smith contributed the legal limit of $2,000 Bush-Cheney 2004, and vice president Frederick Smith gave $175,000 to the RNC and maxed out his Bush-Cheney contribution.

FEC records show that two other top level Sinclair executives gave the maximum amount they could to Bush-Cheney.

Sinclair executives have given nearly $68,000 in political contributions, 97 percent of it going to Republicans, since the beginning of the year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, has written a letter to Sinclair asking the company to cancel reported plans to air the film between now and the Nov. 2 election. The Post reports the movie is about Kerry's antiwar testimony to Congress in 1971 and was produced independently of Sinclair.

"Sinclair's plan to air anti-Kerry propaganda before the election is an abuse of the public airwaves for what appears to be partisan political purposes," Media Matters CEO David Brock said in the letter.

The letter warned Sinclair that its plan could constitute a violation of broadcast regulations requiring equal time for political candidates, as well as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the group said.

Federal campaign finance law states it is illegal for a corporation to contribute anything of value to a federal campaign or a national political committee, including broadcast communications, said Cabrera.

Kerry's team said Sinclair was clearly trying to manipulate the outcome of the election because of the broadcaster's ties to the Bush administration.

"This is another example of President Bush's powerful corporate friends doing his dirty work," said Chad Clanton, a spokesman with the Kerry campaign.

"They know Kerry (will not bow) to their corporate interests, so they're willing to break journalistic principles to try and stop him."

Sinclair (SBGI: down $0.07 to $7.31, Research, Estimates) stock fell in afternoon trading on Nasdaq.  Top of page

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