First Sinclair, now Pappas

Published October 26, 2004 6:53PM (EDT)

Is it just us, or are Republican media moguls becoming increasingly brazen down the campaign homestretch, as they ignore decades worth of broadcast guidelines in order to use the public airwaves in blatantly partisan ways? First, the Sinclair Broadcast Group tried to order its 62 stations nationwide to air an anti-Kerry hit piece. Now in another unprecedented move, Pappas Telecasting, one of California's largest broadcast owners, is donating $325,000 worth of airtime exclusively to Republican candidates locked in tight local races.

According to the Associated Press, the company's CEO, Harry J. Pappas--a big GOP donor--decided to make the contributions "because they reflect his political views in support of the Republican Party." The privately-held company owns 28 TV stations, with outlets in most of California's major markets, including Bakersfield, Fresno, Los Angeles, Modesto, Sacramento, and San Francisco. Pappas' give-ways to Republican candidates are good on seven of his television and two radio stations, most of which are based in California's Central Valley

In order to skirt federal regulations that require broadcasters to give major candidates "equal time" during campaigns, Pappas is donating $25,000 to seven local GOP committees--not to the candidates--and setting aside broadcast minutes for Republicans only. Pappas' spokesman told the Sacramento Bee, "We're not denying (Democrats) any opportunity. They have the opportunity to purchase an equivalent amount of airtime. I think Mr. Pappas has the right to express his political opinions as much as anyone else."

In a statement this afternoon, Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, an advocacy group that battles media consolidation, denounced the Pappas move: "This is yet another example of a huge media company abusing the public's airwaves to advance their own political agenda. Pappas is making a bogus claim that the ads are not contributions, that they're 'buying' ad time from themselves. This is nothing but smoke and mirrors to avoid what appears to be a violation of federal laws requiring equal time." Free Press, which helped mobilize protests against Sinclair in recent weeks, vows to press its fight against Pappas.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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