Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell told reporters Thursday that the commission is not in the business of regulating editorial decisions of media companies, including blocking the broadcast of a show.
That came in response to questions from reporters on his reaction to congressional complaints over Sinclair Broadcasting's plans to air all or part of a documentary critical of John Kerry.
Speaking as one of five commissioners, though the one with the biggest chair, Powell said the commission would look into the issue, but added: "There is no rule that I’m aware of that would allow the Commission – nor would it be prudent – to prevent the airing of a program. And the only rules that I’ve heard in any way possibly implicated are equal time, which merely means that the licensee would have to offer the other side an opportunity to respond. And, at least according to press reports, that opportunity has been provided."
Several legislators have written the FCC calling for an investigation into the show, which Sinclair has yet to air.
Powell said those weren't necessarily formal complaints, but addded "we can easily respond to Senator letters fairly promptly," though it may not be what they wanted to hear.
"Again, I would emphasize, there is no FCC rule of prior restraint of a program being aired on television," said Powell. "I think that would be an absolute disservice to the First Amendment and I think it would be unconstitutional if we attempted to do so. So don’t look to us to block the airing of a program."
He later echoed that sentiment on an interview with CNBC, pointing out it would be illegal for the FCC to block a program.