Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell has reiterated that the agency is not in the business of prior restraint, but in a letter to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), he said the FCC would act "expeditiously" on any complaint filed against Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. after it airs the program A POW Story: Politics, Pressure & the Media.
Powell said that Sinclair might have to provide comparable time for views opposed to those expressed in the show under "certain circumstances." Those circumstances would include if the Sinclair show were determined not to be a bona fide newscast or news interview program, or if the FCC determined that Sinclair had failed to "afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance."
That would have to be a commission judgment call. Because the FCC's fairness doctrine was thrown out in 1987, there is no "bright line" rule on what would constitute such a failure. "In all events," said Powell, "our nation's broadcasters have an obligation to serve the public interest."
Powell was responding to a letter from Dingell and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), ranking members of the House Commerce Committee and its telecommunications subcommittee, respectively, on what actions it could take regarding the show.
The original letter had been prompted by reports that Sinclair planned to air a documentary, Stolen Honor, critical of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry's anti-war activism, and do so within two weeks of the election. Powell pointed out that Sinclair had since announced it was not planning to air the documentary, but instead a news show featuring portions of it.
That show is scheduled for a Friday night airing on Sinclair's stations.