Deal would destroy local-TV competition, breaking FCC rules to reward pro-Trump coverage
August 7, 2017
Contact Info: Timothy Karr, 201-533-8838
WASHINGTON — On Monday, Free Press filed a formal challenge at the Federal Communications Commission to the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company. The petition to deny seeks to halt the transfer of broadcast licenses that would give Sinclair control of more than 233 local TV stations reaching 72 percent of the country’s population, far in excess of congressional and FCC limits on national and local media ownership.
Free Press’ comments are available here: https://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/resources/free_press_petition_to_deny_sinclair_merger.pdf
“Sinclair has long tried to evade the FCC rules it’s now trying to erase with the help of the Trump administration,” said Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. “Sinclair forces its local stations to air pro-Trump propaganda and then seeks favors from the Trump administration worth billions. This should be a national scandal. And if it’s allowed to happen, it will unleash a new and unprecedented wave of consolidation in local TV that may boost short-term stock prices but will spell long-term disaster for local communities.”
In April, the Trump FCC reinstated the so-called UHF discount, an obsolete loophole that lets Sinclair skirt congressionally mandated ownership limits. Sinclair’s unabashed goal is to move toward a drastically consolidated news market in which only a few broadcast goliaths can afford to compete. As Sinclair President and CEO Christopher Ripley told investors on a recent earnings call: “We think the industry needs to consolidate to two or three large broadcasters, and really just one to two strong local players in each market.”
In its filing at the FCC, Free Press shows that Sinclair has failed to demonstrate any public-interest benefits from the proposed deal. The filing also explains how Sinclair requires its local stations to air regular segments featuring racist and Islamophobic rhetoric as well as biased commentary from a former Trump campaign official. Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune would cause irreparable harms to communities across the nation that depend on diverse, competitive local broadcast stations for news and information.
“Sinclair’s quest to create local news monopolies and its lack of any concern for the FCC’s ownership rules is deeply disturbing. This transaction would only worsen the company’s longstanding pattern of evading public-interest obligations and blatantly abusing its market power,” said Free Press Policy Analyst Dana Floberg, who co-authored the petition to deny. “This deal would violate the FCC’s rules and do real harm in local communities — especially to low-income families and people of color, who are more likely to rely on broadcast TV. If approved, this merger would turn Sinclair into a colossal media empire with the power to force its pro-Trump bias and xenophobic fear-mongering down the throats of more than 70 percent of the U.S. population. The FCC must reject this despicable deal.”
To oppose the Sinclair-Tribune merger, Free Press is also partnering with MPower Change, aa grassroots movement of diverse U.S. Muslim communities fighting for social, spiritual, racial and economic justice for all people. Together, nearly 40,000 Free Press and MPower Change activists are calling on the FCC to block this deal.
“Sinclair is a proven propaganda machine,” said MPower Change Campaign Director Mohammad Khan. “This deal would further restrict the freedom of local news outlets, politicize the press we depend on for impartial news, and, frankly, endanger Muslim communities. The FCC has to block this merger.”