Reed Hundt responds to

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Reed Hundt responds to Michael Powel<$NoAd$>l …

Dear Josh:

As a former FCC chair, I read with interest — and disappointment — the following:

“Don’t look to us to block the airing of a program,” Michael Powell told reporters. “I don’t know of any precedent in which the commission could do that.”

Eighteen senators, all Democrats, wrote to Powell this week and asked him to investigate Sinclair Broadcast Group’s plan to run the program, “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” two weeks before the Nov. 2 election.”

But no one has asked the FCC to bar Sinclair from showing the program. There are only two issues for the FCC and only two requests to Chairman Powell.

The issues are: if Sinclair shows this anti-Kerry propaganda (which can be downloaded from Internet, lest anyone question the characterization), then (1) should it also give a free hour to pro-Kerry content selected by any authentic progressive organization, and (2) will Sinclair face at least the prospect after the fact of a review of its fulfillment of its public interest duties.

And the two requests are: (1) will the Chairman of the FCC remind Sinclair and other broadcasters by word and deed that they have public interest obligations, and (2) will the Chairman of the FCC investigate now, before the propaganda airs, whether Sinclair has a duty to give an hour to pro-Kerry content selected by any progressive organization?

Chairman Powell instead pretends that he has been asked to bar the showing of the propaganda — which no one has asked him to do. His remarks are so far off the point, and he is so intelligent, that one must conclude that he knows what he is doing and intends the result — tacit and plain encouragement of the use of the Sinclair airwaves to pursue a smear campaign. No broadcast group in the history of America has ever committed an hour to smearing a presidential candidate, and no FCC chairman before this one would have reacted with equanimity to this radical step down in broadcasting ethics.

By the way, this FCC Chairman had no trouble issuing volumes of commentary about the obligation of broadcasters not to air indecent material during hours when children are in the audience. As important as that obligation is to many people, no less important to our democracy is the ability to conduct an election without the bombardment from the airwaves of station-sponsored propaganda.

In any event, the current FCC Chairman is no stranger to the White House. They know who he is and what he says. So the White House can and should remind the Chairman of his duties and express publicly its expectation that broadcasters will honor our democracy by playing fair. This is what should happen. If it is not a prediction of what will happen, that’s a sign of how far out of the mainstream the current Administration is.

Reed Hundt, FCC Chair 1993-97

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