Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s annual shareholders meeting today turned into a lively debate over the political views of Chairman Ted Turner, who defended charges that too much free broadcast time is given to causes he supports.
The meeting, held the morning after the showing of a program on TBS that favored the pro-choice side of the abortion issue, ran for 90 minutes with about an hour devoted to the exchange.
A resolution presented by Reed Irvine, chairman of the watchdog group Accuracy in Media, asked Turner to re-examine TBS' policy on free time and to distribute the free time equally among liberal and conservative groups. The resolution was opposed by Turner, who owns more than half of the company's common stock, and it failed.
But in the lengthy discussion over it, Turner was questioned sharply about whether his personal political bias dictates programming on his cable television stations.
Turner said he is not committed to showing programs from any particular group. He said TBS gets tapes of programs from many organizations, and each one is evaluated on its merits.
He said if he agreed to show opposing viewpoints on every documentary, he would have to present Nazi or Ku Klux Klan films each time he showed a pro-American program.
"We have to make these judgments," Turner said. "Someone is opposed to everything."
Cites Liberal Causes
Irvine said Turner is providing nine hours of prime time programming this year to shows produced or backed by the Better World Society, a group headed by Turner that tends to support liberal causes.
He also questioned the business wisdom of showing the abortion program--for which Turner said he did not try to sell advertising--three times on the TBS cable SuperStation.
"If you're going to give free air time, distribute it equitably," Irvine said.
Turner contended that TBS will not actually lose money on the abortion program because ad space was not sold out for those slots anyway. He said one hour of prime time generally is worth $100,000.
"We couldn't do it (no ads) every night," he said. "We could easily do it once a month without any problem.
"You know we do things differently from the other networks and we're growing rapidly, and they're not."
In official business, the TBS shareholders elected a slate of directors and selected an accountant for the next year.