Durbin To FCC Chairman Pai: Sinclair's Troubling Conduct Deserves Utmost Scrutiny In Sinclair-Tribune Mega-Merger
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai regarding his recent decision to halt its review of the proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company and refer it to heightened legal scrutiny. Durbin has sent multiple letters to the FCC about troubling aspects of Sinclair’s conduct and has called into question the legality of the details in the proposed merger.
“Sinclair’s record is long when it comes to pushing the interests of local and diverse audiences aside in favor of mandating local stations air Sinclair-produced national content," Durbin wrote in a letter to Chairman Pai. “Sinclair has sought to exploit every available loophole to avoid complying with existing media ownership limits, including constructing purchase agreements that fail any reasonable test of a meaningful divestment…As Sinclair seeks to expand its reach by millions of American homes, careful consideration must be given to Sinclair’s troubling conduct.”
In April, Durbin sent a letter to Chairman Pai following reports that Sinclair required local news anchors at Sinclair-owned television stations across the country to deliver a scripted promotional message on-air. In February, Durbin wrote to Chairman Pai about Sinclair’s sham divestment plan. It planned to divest from Tribune’s WGN-TV Chicago, WPIX-TV New York, and KSWB-TV San Diego stations in order for the merger to comply with the FCC’s 39 percent national media ownership cap. However, despite having the appearance of complying with the cap, the proposal also disclosed that Sinclair already had purchase agreements with buyers for WGN and WPIX, which would allow Sinclair to avoid violating the FCC’s media ownership limits while retaining the ability to remotely operate the stations.
Full text of Durbin’s letter is available here and below:
July 19, 2018
The Honorable Ajit Pai
Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Pai:
I appreciate your statement earlier this week expressing “serious concerns” about the proposed merger between Sinclair Broadcast Group (Sinclair) and Tribune Media Company (Tribune) and commend the FCC on its decision to halt its review of the merger and refer the proposed merger to receive the heightened legal scrutiny it deserves. I write to again reiterate my concerns with the proposed merger and urge the FCC’s continued scrutiny.
As you are aware, I have written many times over the past few months to share my own concerns about the proposed merger and to highlight Sinclair’s worrisome business practices and the threat the deal poses to the public interest, localism and diversity, and competition. Sinclair’s record is long when it comes to pushing the interests of local and diverse audiences aside in favor of mandating local stations air Sinclair-produced national content. Sinclair has harmed local news stations and undermined the trust of local audiences by requiring local news anchors to deliver corporate-scripted messages, without a disclaimer, and in some cases reportedly while threatening employee consequences.
Sinclair has sought to exploit every available loophole to avoid complying with existing media ownership limits, including constructing purchase agreements that fail any reasonable test of a meaningful divestment. Sinclair’s recent announcement to submit yet another amended proposal serves as not only acknowledgement that their previous proposals failed to comply with the law, but also as a deliberate attempt to avoid having to defend these sham purchase agreements before a judge. As Sinclair seeks to expand its reach by millions of American homes, careful consideration must be given to Sinclair’s troubling conduct.
Again, I commend the FCC on approving the order to afford the proposed Sinclair – Tribune merger heightened legal review, and urge the FCC’s continued commitment to evaluating the merger with the upmost scrutiny.
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