In jab at MMFA, Wall Street Journal still confused about law governing broadcasters


In an October 22 editorial titled "Sinclair and Watergate," The Wall Street Journal repeated an error it had made in an editorial nine days earlier, again falsely claiming that a federal "equal time" law governing candidate access to the airwaves no longer exists. The editorial addressed Sinclair Broadcast Group's intention to air parts of the anti-Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds That Won't Heal on 40 of its 62 TV stations.

From the October 22 editorial:

Media Matters [for America], a liberal media agit-prop outfit, announced it was underwriting another shareholder suit and demanded that Sinclair provide equal time to those with opposing views. (It apparently escaped their attention that the Kerry campaign had declined Sinclair's invitation to respond on air and that the federal "equal time" requirement vanished along with the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s.)

As Media Matters for America previously noted when an October 13 Journal editorial claimed that the "anti-democratic notion" of an equal time requirement "went away when the so-called Fairness Doctrine finally did in the 1980s," the equal time requirement still exists in federal law. The provision mandates (with exceptions for "bona fide" news programs) the following:

If any licensee shall permit any person who is a legally qualified candidate for any public office to use a broadcasting station, he shall afford equal opportunities to all other such candidates for that office in the use of such broadcasting station: Provided, [sic] That such licensee shall have no power of censorship over the material broadcast under the provisions of this section.

Once again, the Journal confused this equal time requirement, a federal law, with the "fairness doctrine," a Federal Communications Commission policy abandoned in August 1987. The "fairness doctrine" did not mandate "equal time" for candidates or issues; rather, it held that broadcasters had an obligation to afford reasonable opportunity for discussion of contrasting points of view on controversial issues of public importance.

While it is unclear how the "equal time" provision would apply in this situation, there are other ways for Sinclair Broadcast Group to provide a balanced, objective view of Kerry's anti-war advocacy after he returned from serving in the Vietnam War other than a response by the candidate himself. Investors and philanthropists Andrew and Deborah Rappaport recently offered to pay a $1 million premium over existing advertising costs to purchase airtime for a broadcast of an edited version of Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry, which provides another look at Kerry's anti-war activism during those years. This offer was rejected by Sinclair.

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