(CNSNews.com) - A harsh critic of media conglomerates reported Thursday that its own public opinion survey showed most Americans in support of the Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to air an unflattering film about Sen. John Kerry.
Sinclair plans to air portions of "Stolen Honor: Wounds Never Heal," featuring former prisoners of war, during an hour-long news program Friday night at 8 p.m. EDT on 40 of its 62 local television affiliates across the United States.
According to a survey conducted by Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, 51 percent of respondents agreed that local television broadcasters should be able to air "Stolen Honor." Forty-one percent disagreed and 9 percent didn't have an opinion.
The poll was commissioned mainly to survey the public on the trends in media ownership, but was expanded to include questions about the controversial film attacking Kerry's actions after returning from Vietnam more than 30 years ago.
Of those unfamiliar with "Stolen Honor," a plurality of respondents agreed that it should be aired. Thirty-six percent said they would support the decision, while 31 percent wouldn't and 33 percent didn't have an opinion.
Consumers Union conducted the survey Tuesday and Wednesday, interviewing 4,528 people, including 2,553 who lived in Sinclair markets. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Even though the findings were favorable to the film, Consumers Union downplayed those results. During a conference call Thursday, Gene Kimmelman, the group's senior director of public policy, highlighted the overwhelming number of respondents who thought the opposition should have a chance to respond.
The survey found that 78 percent of people who were aware of the film thought broadcasters should air an opposing point of view. Just 10 percent didn't think a response was required.
"We believe it's really incumbent upon Sinclair stations and the corporation overall to ensure that the program is balanced, presents fairness and equal time for points of view favorable or negative to both national presidential candidates," Kimmelman said. "If that's not done, we will ask Sinclair to balance it out."
In a statement released Tuesday, Sinclair attempted to dispel the notion it intended to air a one-sided program. The company noted it had met with Kerry campaign officials in an effort to get the presidential nominee to rebut the charges himself.
"The Kerry campaign was criticizing us in public while communications had been conducted in private for two weeks, including written correspondence, telephone calls and meeting face-to-face with senior campaign officials including [Campaign Manager] Mary Beth Cahill," said Mark Hyman, Sinclair's vice president for corporate relations.
Kerry campaign spokesman Chad Clanton, who on Oct. 12 threatened Sinclair with retribution if Kerry was elected, said the Massachusetts senator would in no way cooperate with a "discredited, partisan effort" disguised as news.
"Sinclair's latest spin on this premeditated political attack is just a panicked attempt to appear fair and reasonable," Clanton said in a statement. "Sinclair Broadcasting's only motivation is political - they are committed to a one-sided smear. Their actions make it clear that promoting the fortunes of George W. Bush trumps any sense of obligation to the public trust."
Hyman denied there was any overt political motive to air "Stolen Honor" as Clanton suggested. He said Sinclair tried to reach George Butler, director of "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," which favorably portrays Kerry, but Butler had not responded.
The controversy over "Stolen Honor" arose when Los Angeles Times reporter Elizabeth Jensen reported Oct. 9 that Sinclair was ordering its stations to preempt regular broadcasts to air the film. The Kerry campaign immediately jumped on Jensen's report to attack Sinclair.
Hyman said Jensen's report was "a highly flawed article." Other media outlets picked up on her report, Hyman said, and subsequently distorted the issue.
Sinclair has been the subject of repeated attacks by Democrats ever since, including partisan shareholders who have threatened, among other things, a boycott against the publicly traded company. While the media drove the controversy, Hyman said, Sinclair's plans weren't accurately reported.
"Contrary to numerous inaccurate political and press accounts, the Sinclair stations will not be airing the documentary 'Stolen Honor' in its entirety," the company said in a statement Tuesday. "At no time did Sinclair ever publicly announce that it intended to do so."
Hyman said the goal of the program was to shed light on 13 former prisoners of war who claim Kerry's 1971 congressional testimony opposing the Vietnam War had negative implications on them during their captivity. Hyman said other media outlets have ignored the veterans' story.
"No one has more earned the right to have their voices heard on the subject of what occurred in Vietnam than these men," Hyman told CNSNews.com . "For the news gatekeepers to ignore them when they've ended 31 years of self-imposed silence is shameless."
Friday's program will include portions of "Stolen Honor," featuring the veterans and also examine media bias and the controversy surrounding Sinclair.
"Giving these men who ended 31 years of self-imposed silence an opportunity to have their voices heard and to have their allegations investigated is the least we can do," Hyman said. "Perhaps it represents the first small step of paying back the huge debt that America owes to these brave heroes."
See Earlier Story:
Sinclair Scales Back Anti-Kerry Program Amid Pressure From Stockholders (Oct. 19, 2004)
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