WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission topper Michael Powell doesn’t think the federal government should get into the messy business of telling broadcasters what types of political shows they can and cannot air.
Powell said Thursday the FCC will not step in to prevent Sinclair Broadcast Group from airing an anti-Kerry docu called “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal” in the final days before the election because the agency does not and should not have the power to do so.
“There is no FCC rule of prior restraint of a program being aired on television,” he told reporters following an FCC meeting. “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. So don’t look to us to block the airing of a program.”
The comments were Powell’s first public response to queries from 18 Democratic senators and two prominent Democratic House members who called on Powell to step in and stop Sinclair from running the docu on all 62 of its stations, many of which are in battleground swing states.
In their letters to Powell, Democrats charged that broadcasting the film, which focuses on Kerry’s role as a Vietnam War protester, would have the potential to violate the FCC’s equal time rules. But Powell dismissed that notion, arguing that the equal time laws only require a broadcaster to offer the other candidate an opportunity to respond to the negative depictions.
“And, at least by press reports, that opportunity has been provided,” Powell added.
Sinclair invited Kerry to participate on a panel for 15 minutes after the docu airs, but the Democratic nominee declined.
Later, during an interview on CNBC, Powell remarked that the FCC also has no power to investigate the sexual harassment charges that a former producer for “The O’Reilly Factor” has leveled against host Bill O’Reilly.
“The FCC is powerful, but I’m grateful that we’re not as powerful as that,” he joked. “We investigate a lot of things here, but Bill O’Reilly’s sexual behavior is not one of them.”