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US TV host suspended over donations

US TV network MSNBC has suspended prime-time host Keith Olbermann indefinitely without pay for contributing to the campaigns of three Democratic candidates during the election season.

Olbermann acknowledged to NBC that he donated 2,400 dollars (£1,483) apiece to the campaigns of Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and Arizona Representatives Raul Grivalva and Gabrielle Giffords.

NBC News prohibits its employees from working on, or donating to, political campaigns unless a special exception is granted by the news division president - effectively a ban. Olbermann's bosses did not find out about the donations until after they were made. The website Politico first reported the donations.

"I became aware of Keith's political contributions late (on Thursday) night," Phil Griffin, MSNBC's chief executive, said on Friday. "Mindful of NBC News policy and standards, I have suspended him indefinitely without pay."

Olbermann was not immediately available for comment.

His prime-time Countdown show is MSNBC's most popular programme. His on-the-air transformation from the host of a straight news programme to a liberal commentator led the network itself to go in the same direction, filling its prime-time schedule with left-leaning hosts and doing better in the ratings than any time since its 1996 launch.

The rise in opinionated cable news programming has called into question whether the traditional rules of news organisations to preserve the appearance of impartiality should apply to people who have their jobs in part because of a clear point of view.

Olbermann was a co-anchor of MSNBC's election coverage this week. The network's performance drew some criticism, particularly with Chris Matthews' contentious interviews with Republican Bachmann and Marsha Blackburn.

Olbermann was seen laughing following Matthews' conversation with Ms Bachmann. Matthews had criticised the congresswoman for failing to answer his questions.

Olbermann, 51, has a volatile work history, feuding with management at ESPN, where he came to prominence. He had a different prime-time show for MSNBC in the late 1990s, but said he resigned because he was angry that management compelled him to spend a lot of time on the scandal that led to President Clinton's impeachment.

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