A media activist group is threatening to wage a campaign to revoke Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.'s TV licenses after the Baltimore-based company announced it would not air the April 30 Nightline on its eight ABC affiliates, in which anchor Ted Koppel plans to read the names of U.S. military personnel killed in combat.
Free Press, a group critical of corporate media, said it will "investigate" whether Sinclair has fulfilled its obligations as a steward of the public airwaves.
"Nearly one quarter of U.S. households will not be able to see the censored ABC Nightline program, said Free Press President Robert McChesney.
He accused Sinclair of pulling the broadcast because of its support for the Bush Administration and the White House decision to go to war. He also said Sinclair was repaying the White House for favoring media ownership deregulation that would allow the company to buy more TV stations.
"What we see in Sinclair broadcasting, with its cozy and corrupt relationship to the Bush administration is TV journalism that is anything but independent of the government. It is a commercial version of Pravda, and it is an outrageous and entirely unacceptable use of the public's airwaves."
Free Press said it will encourage local citizens to request that the FCC deny renewals of Sinclair licenses. Licenses for Sinclair's ABC affiliates in West Virginia and North Carolina come up for renewal later this year; affiliates in Ohio and Florida in 2005.
Sinclair says the broadcast was pulled because it was an anti-war protest disguised as news.
Only local general managers have the right to make that call, McChesney said. "Sinclair's actions belie any notion that local station managers who live and work in their communities have any autonomy from the policies of corporate headquarters. Sinclair's stations are forced to speak with one voice, not diverse local voices."
He then went on to decry Sinclair practices that long rankled activists, including lowering costs of local news programs by "centralcasting" from regional hubs and skirting limits on owning two stations in a market by operating stations owned by others.