NAB Sees Benefit in Sinclair Flap

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The National Association of Broadcasters has turned complaints over Sinclair Broadcasting and Pappas Telecasting into arguments against new and more specific government-mandated news and public affairs obligations.

Sinclair took heat over an anti-Kerry documentary, parts of which aired just before the presidential election. Elsewhere, Pappas Telecasting donated time to Republican campaign committees in California. Activist groups complained to the FCC about both in a filing in the commission's broadcast localism proceeding. They said the actions betrayed bias by the stating licensees that needs to be balanced by more government-mandated public interest obligations.

Instead, NAB said, the fact that Sinclair only aired portions of the documentary, after pressure from advertisers and others, and the FCC's decision to require Pappas to give money to opposing candidates, showed that marketplace forces and current FCC regs were sufficient. "Fair evaluation of the ultimate resolutions of these two circumstances shows that rule changes are not necessary."

Sinclair, which is not an NAB member, has argued that it never intended to air the full documentary, but NAB cited numerous news accounts in its filing in making its argument that it had intended to do so, and that it was marketplace pressure that could have prompted it to change its mind.Barry Faber, Sinclair VP and general counsel, maintains that the company had never decided to air the documentary in its entirely, but he also said there is validity in NAB's argument about marketplace forces. "Despite the fact that the reports were wrong, and that people were reacting to inaccurate information, it was still giving us the sense of how best to serve the public. It is fair to say the public spoke and we took that into account."The FCC created the localism inquiry as an attempt to separate various public interest obligation issues from the structural ownership dereg the majority was trying to vote out. It didn't work, and the rules were ultimately stayed by an appeals court.

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