- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 19, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A documentary critical of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry’s Vietnam-era anti-war activities will be shown only in part during a program examining the use of such documentaries to influence elections, Sinclair Broadcasting Group said yesterday.

The company’s announcement came hours after shareholders challenged Sinclair’s plans to air the program, saying the furor around the broadcast could hurt their investment.

“A POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media,” will examine the “role of the media in filtering the information contained in these documentaries, allegations of media bias by media organizations that ignore or filter legitimate news and the attempts by candidates and other organizations to influence media coverage,” the company said.

The special will air Friday on 40 of the company’s stations.



The news special will discuss accusations surrounding Mr. Kerry’s anti-Vietnam War activities raised in the documentary, “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” but the entire 42-minute documentary will not air, said Sinclair, owner of 62 TV stations.

The Hunt Valley, Md., company, which has previously declined comment on its ordering the stations to pre-empt regular programming to air the show, said reports that the documentary would be aired in its entirety were “inaccurate.”

Its 62 stations, which include WBFF (Channel 45) and WNUV (Channel 54) in Baltimore, reach up to 25 percent of U.S. TV households, the company said.

In his letter to Sinclair, New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, a Democrat, said the $115 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund holds 256,600 shares of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and questioned the impact showing “Stolen Honor” might have on the value of the shares.

San Diego lawyer William S. Lerach also said he planned to file suit on behalf of shareholders, charging that insider trading by top executives and the decision to air the documentary have hurt the company.

And Media Matters, a liberal media advocacy group, announced that it was underwriting the costs of a shareholder action, demanding that Sinclair provide equal time to those with views opposed to the accusations in the documentary.

The Democratic National Committee has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission contending that airing the film should be considered an illegal in-kind contribution to the Bush campaign.

Critics have called for an advertising boycott of the company.

The furor has not sat well with investors. Sinclair shares fell another 3.5 percent yesterday, dropping 23 cents to $6.26 a share on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Sinclair stock dropped about 8 percent on Monday and is down from a high of more than $15 a share in January.

Among the questions raised in the Hevesi letter, a copy of which was provided to the Associated Press: the cost of foregoing an hour of commercial time to show the documentary; how many advertisers have pulled their spots from Sinclair stations and how much that has cost the company; and the impact on ratings.

“Given the stock’s already poor performance, it would seem that any bad news would risk reducing investor interest and, thus, risk a lower stock price,” the letter reads.

Mr. Hevesi said only three of the company’s directors appear to meet Nasdaq’s independence criteria and notes Sinclair shares have dropped from $15.02 in January to below $7, while other stocks in the sector have increased.

Sinclair already had fired its Washington bureau chief, saying he revealed company business when he discussed the program. The company said late Monday that it fired reporter Jon Leiberman and that “we are disappointed that Jon’s political views caused him to violate company policy and speak to the press about company business.”

“We have not ceded, and will not in the future cede, control of our news reporting to any outside organization or political group,” said Joe DeFeo, Sinclair’s vice president of news.

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