Turning the pages back...

May 2, 1999

Seven years ago on May 2, 1999, The Ukrainian Weekly carried an article about the settlement signed on April 21 regarding the CBS "60 Minutes" broadcast of "The Ugly Face of Freedom" that aired five years earlier on October 23, 1994. The settlement was signed by lawyers representing the plaintiffs, Alexander J. Serafyn of Detroit, Oleg Nikolyszyn of Providence, R.I., and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, and attorneys for CBS. A petition for approval of the settlement was sent on the day of the signing to the Federal Communications Commission.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia had found that there were serious questions about whether CBS intentionally distorted information in that news report and ordered the FCC to revisit the case. The court ruled that the FCC "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" in denying a petition for a hearing on whether CBS engaged in news distortion. The FCC had three options: to revisit its decision, call for more evidence or convene a full-scale hearing on the matter. The difficulty was whether the Ukrainian American plaintiffs could prove that CBS presented its distortions intentionally.

The actual settlement was an attempt by CBS to offer an olive branch to the plaintiffs in order to put an end to the case. In the settlement, "the CBS Parties" agreed "to reimburse the legal expenses (totaling $328,000) incurred by 'the UCCA Parties' in filing and prosecuting such petitions and other objections and to provide the UCCA Parties with a settlement letter."

The settlement letter also stated that CBS regretted that Ukrainian Americans were offended by the segment, but it fell short of apologizing for misrepresentation. The settlement letter, written by Louis Briskman, vice-president and general counsel of CBS, also stated: "I want to squarely address the suggestion that our broadcast intended to imply that Ukrainians are somehow genetically anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was not our intention when we first broadcast the report, nor is it our belief today."

The letter also indicated that the two parties were not in agreement on the principal issue: the accuracy and fairness of "The Ugly Face of Freedom." The letter states: "While CBS and your clients may not agree about the merits of the '60 Minutes' broadcast and may have differences concerning possible future programs, I am hopeful that our meeting helped to promote mutual respect and understanding. In this regard, let me assure you that CBS has no 'agenda' with regard to the Ukrainian people and country. Our desire is to maintain good relations with all segments of the television audience and, obviously, the Ukrainian American community is no exception."

Arthur Belendiuk, a lawyer for the Ukrainian American plaintiffs stated, "They wanted us to agree that they had not intentionally distorted [the news] - we refused to do that. We're just saying that we're dropping the case. We agreed to disagree." But he commented on CBS's actions saying, "they are making some pretty significant steps."

Source: "CBS and Ukrainian Americans sign settlement agreement regarding "The Ugly Face," by Roma Hadzewycz, The Ukrainian Weekly, May 2, 1999, Vol. LXVII, No. 18.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 30, 2006, No. 18, Vol. LXXIV

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