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Kerry campaign wants equal time after film

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Kerry campaign called on Sinclair Broadcasting Friday to provide equal time to supporters of the Democratic presidential nominee after airing a 45-minute film attacking him.

In a letter to Sinclair Broadcasting President David Smith, Kerry campaign attorney Marc Elias said the broadcasting group's demand that its 62 stations air the program, without insisting they provide equal time for a response, is illegal.

"Please consider this a request that each Sinclair station that airs the documentary provide supporters of the Kerry-Edwards campaign with a similar amount of time on that station before the election at a time where an audience of similar size can be expected to be viewing the station," Elias wrote.

With less than three weeks to go in an extremely close presidential race, sparks are flying around the anti-Kerry film, "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," which Sinclair wants to air commercial-free -- on stations that include the swing states of Ohio, Florida, Iowa and Wisconsin -- next week.

The Federal Communications Commission won't intervene to stop the broadcast, as it was asked to do this week in a letter from 18 Democratic senators.

"Don't look to us to block the airing of a program," FCC Chairman Michael Powell said.

"I don't know of any precedent in which the commission could do that." (FCC won't prevent airing of anti-Kerry film, chairman says)

Sinclair Broadcasting's top executives are public supporters of the Bush campaign. They have donated at least $58,000 to the Bush-Cheney campaign or the Republican National Committee for the 2004 election.

The Kerry campaign's letter Friday followed efforts by Democrats to have the broadcasting group's plan deemed illegal. The Democratic National Committee filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging Sinclair made an "illegal in-kind contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign" by ordering its stations to air the program.

Elias' letter said the Kerry campaign concurs that without equal time being provided the move "would constitute an illegal corporate expenditure." The letter said the program clearly does not qualify for exemptions to equal time laws that exist for news stories and certain documentaries.

Sinclair Broadcasting has insisted its actions break no law. Vice President Mark Hyman told CNN this week the program is a "newsworthy event" designed to let Vietnam veterans who believe they were maligned by Kerry after he returned from the war to have their stories heard.

Hyman said the broadcasting group's goal is to "get John Kerry to sit down and talk with these guys."

Complaining that news networks ignored those veterans, Hyman compared the networks to "Holocaust deniers," drawing a sharp rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League.

Carlton Sherwood, producer of the 45-minute program at issue, is a Vietnam combat veteran and retired journalist who has long attacked Kerry for his comments upon return from service in Vietnam as a young man. Kerry, a decorated veteran, has said he regrets some of the comments he made three decades ago, but stands by his opposition to that war.

Speaking to a Senate panel in 1971, Kerry discussed testimony U.S. soldiers had given at the "Winter Soldier" meeting in Detroit months earlier. He mentioned some of the atrocities that soldiers reported having committed.

Sherwood said this year that Kerry had labeled all Vietnam POWs "war criminals."

Sinclair Broadcasting in April ordered its ABC affiliates not to air a "Nightline" program that included a reading of the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. A Sinclair executive called that broadcast "contrary to the public interest."

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