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Protest Launched Against Sinclair

Times Staff Writer

A coalition of liberal political groups is launching a nationwide protest against Sinclair Broadcast Group, charging that the 62-station TV broadcaster, which was also the target of intense criticism during the presidential campaign, is misusing public airwaves with partisan news programming.

The groups, led by Media Matters for America, today will announce a campaign to pressure Sinclair’s advertisers with letters. The groups, however, are stopping short of demanding an advertiser boycott.

The campaign is one of the first broad attempts to reenergize liberal political activists in the wake of the Democrats’ electoral defeat in November. Others involved include MoveOn.org, Free Press, Campaign for America’s Future, Working Assets, Alternet, MediaChannel, and filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who made “Outfoxed,” a film released in the summer that alleged Republican bias at Fox News Channel.

The anti-Sinclair campaign will be run through a new website, SinclairAction.com.

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The main focus of the protest is the nightly “The Point” commentary by Mark Hyman, who is Sinclair’s spokesman and also oversees the company’s Washington lobbying.

A recent Media Matters analysis of “The Point” editions from Nov. 2 to Dec. 1 found that the commentaries repeatedly attacked former Democratic candidate John F. Kerry, former President Clinton and other Democratic politicians. Hyman has referred to Democrats as the “Angry Left,” charged that there is a liberal bias in the media and expressed support for Bush administration policies.

The commentary airs on about 40 of the 62 stations that Sinclair owns, programs or manages, reaching about one-fourth of U.S. homes with televisions.

Hyman couldn’t be reached for comment Monday. Company executives have denied bias in their programming, but say they give attention to points of view that other media outlets ignore.

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Sinclair drew controversy -- and the ire of Democrats -- in October, when The Times reported it planned to air “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” a film critical of Kerry, on all its stations just days before the tightly fought election.

The network backed down after the publicity led to threats of an advertising boycott, complaints from Democratic politicians and threats of shareholder action. On Oct. 22, Sinclair aired what many analysts called a largely balanced news program about Kerry on about 40 stations.

Sinclair, a publicly traded company, owns stations affiliated with the six major networks.

The new letter-writing campaign and website will seek to point out to advertisers “what they are supporting, on the notion that many of them may not know, and also ask them to join us in an effort to hold Sinclair accountable,” said David Brock, president of Media Matters for America.

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He said the group would like to have a dialogue” with Sinclair, with the goal of possibly getting the TV group to allow rebuttals to “The Point” or even add another commentary with a more liberal point of view.

A boycott “might be considered down the road” if the first approach doesn’t work, Brock said.

Filmmaker Greenwald said he helped put the coalition together after speaking to political activist groups in the days after the Nov. 2 election and finding a “grass-roots desire to participate and have something to do other than wait two years for an election.”

The issue of perceived media bias -- for both conservatives and liberals -- was a hot button during the campaign and has shown little sign of dying down since the election.

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When MoveOn.org polled its members on important issues to tackle over the next four years, “media reform” came in second -- behind “election reform.” Conservatives, meanwhile, have continued their efforts to highlight what they see as liberal bias in the media.

They cite, among other examples, Dan Rather’s report on President Bush’s 1970s military service, which was based on what CBS now says were unverified documents.

Sinclair could be vulnerable to criticisms of bias because it operates on over-the-air TV licenses, which are subject to Federal Communications Commission scrutiny, unlike cable networks. The FCC can take away licenses of station owners who don’t operate in the public interest.

Sinclair’s license renewals for six stations in North and South Carolina are being challenged by the nonprofit group Free Press.

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