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NEW YORK, April 29, 2004 -- Sinclair Broadcast Group on Thursday ordered its eight ABC affiliates to pre-empt Friday's "Nightline" broadcast of the reading of the names of US military personnel killed in Iraq, saying the program is "motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq."
The political leanings of Sinclair executives also may have played a part in the company's decision to block the popular ABC news program. In 2004, Sinclair executives gave 98 percent of their political contributions to GOP candidates.
In a fax to press Thursday, the Baltimore-based media company, whose holdings include 62 local TV stations, said that by airing Friday's Nightline program, "ABC is disguising political statements as news content."
During the ABC News broadcast, anchorman Ted Koppel will read aloud the names of more than 500 U.S. service men or women who have lost their lives in the war, as a corresponding photo appears on the screen along with that person's name, military branch, rank and age. In an emailed statement, ABC News "respectfully disagreed" with Sinclair's view of the program saying that Nightline "is dedicated to thoughtful and balanced coverage and reports on the events shaping our world with neither fear nor favor -- as our audience expects, deserves, and rightly demands."
If the Sinclair Broadcasting Group's track record of political contributions is any indication, executives at the company may have their own "political agenda." According to The Center for Responsive Politics, an organization devoted to tracking political contributions by individuals, PACs and corporations, Sinclair executives give overwhelmingly to Republican causes and candidates. Of the top twenty TV and Radio companies to make political contributions in 2004, Sinclair Broadcasting Group is among the most conservative, giving 98 percent of its $65,434 in political contributions to GOP candidates.
By comparison, Clear Channel Communications, the conservative radio colossus run by longtime Bush cronies Tom and Steve Hicks, has given only 75 percent of its 2004 contributions to Republicans; Democratic candidates have received the remaining 25 percent.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Sinclair CEO and President David Smith personally gave $2,000, the maximum individual contribution, to President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. Smith has yet to reply to MediaChannel's request for comment on his company's political leanings.
John Dunbar of the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity said, "I fell out of my chair when I read Sinclair's statement." Dunbar, whose organization monitors and reports upon the influence of money over politics, considers Koppel's reporting to be politically moderate. "Based on what Sinclair did, it's impossible not to see where their political interests lie," he said.
The broadcasting giant reported first quarter preliminary results for net broadcast revenues reached $158.3 million. The Q1 increase over last year -- about $4 million more than the company expected -- came in part from $1.3 million in additional political advertising revenues in key election states such as Ohio, Florida, West Virginia, Illinois and Maine, where Sinclair owns stations.
Timothy Karr is Executive Director of MediaChannel.org.