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CU asks Sinclair stations to survey residents on “documentary”

October 12, 2004
Dear Station Manager:
As you know, Sinclair Broadcast Corp., the parent company of one of the stations in your media market, has announced that its 62 stations will preempt scheduled programming to air the so-called documentary “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal.” Consumers Union, the non-profit, independent publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, is writing to request that you immediately commission an independent survey of viewers in your area to ascertain what actions are appropriate on your part, in response to Sinclair’s decision, to preserve the existence of a robust political debate at the community level that is the cornerstone of our democracy. This survey should ask whether other points of view should be given equal weight to ensure that citizens have all the facts they need before they enter the voting booth on November 2nd.
Sinclair Broadcast Corp. operates more than 60 broadcast stations that reach about one-quarter of Americans in states that yield more than 370 electoral votes, and the airing of one political point of view that favors one presidential candidate so close to the election could have an enormous impact on who wins the presidency. Moreover, one of the presidential candidates has challenged this “documentary” as inaccurate, and independent observers similarly have questioned the factual correctness of the material. We therefore believe it is critical that television broadcasters licensed to serve the public interest in the communities that Sinclair serves seek community input to determine whether such programming is appropriate to air and whether citizens believe other diverse viewpoints must be aired to inform the democratic process.
Local broadcasters have long claimed that they do and should reflect the views and needs of citizens in their communities. For example, in its “National Report on Local Broadcasters’ Community Service,” the National Association of Broadcasters states: “The bottom line is that local broadcasters make substantial public service contributions to their communities—contributions that have great value and impact. And, as always, a major reason for the success of the industry’s public service activities is that local broadcasters are making their decisions about where to contribute—and how— based on the specific needs of the communities they serve.” We believe this commitment engenders a responsibility on your part to understand the information needs of citizens in your community and then take action to ensure that citizens receive overall fair, balanced coverage of the presidential campaign. This action is necessary to ensure the robust debate critical to our democracy.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We look forward to receiving your timely response, and sharing it with the Federal Communications Commission, in its ongoing work to promote the public interest. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to discuss this matter further.
Gene Kimmelman
Senior Director of Public Policy and Advocacy
FCC Chairman Michael Powell
FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps
FCC Commissioner Kevin Martin
FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein