The Federal Communications Commission won't intervene to stop a broadcast company's plans to air a critical documentary about John Kerry's anti-Vietnam War activities on dozens of TV stations, the agency's chairman said Thursday.
"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.
Powell said there are no federal rules that would allow the agency to prevent the program. "I think that would be an absolute disservice to the First Amendment and I think it would be unconstitutional if we attempted to do so," he said.
He said he would consider the senators' concerns but added that they may not amount to a formal complaint, which could trigger an investigation. FCC rules require that a program air before a formal complaint can be considered.
Sinclair, based outside Baltimore, has asked its 62 television stations - many of them in competitive states in the presidential election - to pre-empt regular programming to run the documentary. It chronicles Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress and links him to activist and actress Jane Fonda. It includes interviews with Vietnam prisoners of war and their wives who claim Kerry's testimony demeaned them and led their captors to hold them longer.
In the letter to Powell, the senators -- led by Dianne Feinstein of California -- asked the FCC to determine whether the airing of the anti-Kerry program is a "proper use of public airwaves" and to investigate whether it would violate rules requiring equal air time for candidates.
Separately, the Democratic National Committee filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday contending that Sinclair's airing of the film should be considered an illegal in-kind contribution to President Bush's campaign.
By Jennifer C. Kerr