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Hill Dems Push Sinclair Probe - Broadcasting & Cable

Hill Dems Push Sinclair Probe

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The top Democrats on the House Commerce Committee Wednesday called on the FCC to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting's plans to air an anti-Kerry documentary on its 62 TV stations sometime during the lead up to the Nov. 2 presidential election.

"We are greatly troubled over the reports that Sinclair intends to air a one-sided film attacking a Presidential candidate, only days before Election Day," Reps. John Dingell and Ed Markey, the ranking Democrats of the Commerce Committee and the Telecommunications Subcommittee, respectively, wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Michael Powell.

If Sinclair is found to have shrugged its obligation, the two urge the FCC to take "appropriate and expeditious action." The two lawmakers say Sinclair appears to be violating its obligation to operate stations in the public interest by airing programming attacking a presidential candidate so close to the election. (The complaint echoes those of activist groups earlier in the day, who called for the commission to reinstate the personal attack rule that requires broadcasters make time available for opposing views.)

The congressmen asked the FCC to investigate whether Sinclair is living up to its public interest obligations and to answer questions about how the FCC determines whether a station's service is in the best interests of the public.

The questions include:

1. How does the commission determine whether an action by a licensee serves the public interest?

2. Does it serve the public interest for a licensee to air a program that is no more than a one-sided propaganda piece against one of the Presidential candidates two weeks before the election is held?

3. If the commission determines that a licensee has violated the commission's public interest test, can the commission, during license renewal proceedings, designate an application for a hearing that could ultimately lead to the denial of renewal?

4. If the commission determines that a licensee has violated the commission's public interest test, would such violation be considered by the commission during license renewal proceedings.

5. If the commission determines that a licensee has violated the commission's public interest test, can the commission commence license revocation proceedings?

Because Sinclair plans to air the program before the Nov. 2 election, the lawmakers have given  the commission until Wednesday., Oct. 20, to respond. 

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