Unions stand up for actors against war in Iraq

LOS ANGELES - Two powerful unions representing entertainment performers and workers have issued statements supporting celebrities' right to speak out against war with Iraq without fear of losing work.

The Screen Actors Guild and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage employees issued statements last week calling on entertainment companies not to "blacklist" performers who take anti-war stands.

Pointing to the McCarthy era, when many creative professionals were denied work for alleged pro-communist attitudes, the unions asked Hollywood decision makers to avoid punishing stars for their political beliefs.

"We deplore the idea that those in the public eye should suffer professionally for having the courage to give voice to their views," the SAG statement read in part. "Even a hint of the blacklist must never again be tolerated in this nation."

SAG head of communications Ilyanne Kichaven said the release was not in response to any particular case or actor. "It's just a general response to a climate," she clarified.

Dozens of actors and musicians have spoken out in recent weeks urging the Bush administration to curtail its war plans. A large number of the most high-profile examples were facilitated by DC-based Fenton Communications on behalf of a wide range of anti-war clients, including Artists United to Win Without War and the newly created Musicians United to Win Without War.

Fenton has helped the AUWWW to book Susan Sarandon and 'MASH''s Mike Farrell on 'Face the Nation', as well as creating a TV commercial for a virtual march on Washington, in which actor Martin Sheen urged citizens to call or fax Congress and the White House. That effort resulted in more than 1m calls and faxes in one day.

Sheen later told the press that NBC, which airs his popular drama 'The West Wing', was unhappy with his vocal stance. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times for a story last Sunday, he said that the show's staff has been "100% supportive," but top network executives have "let it be known they're very uncomfortable with where I'm at" on the war.

NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks told the AP on Sunday that she knew of "no concern among top management at NBC regarding Mr Sheen's stand against the war, or fear that it could impact the show." SAG and the IATSE released their statements soon after.

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