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ATVA Slams Sinclair Retrans Story

The American Television Alliance (ATVA) took aim at Sinclair in a blog posting Friday, only a day after the FCC approved Sinclair's purchase of Allbritton stations, including WJLA TV Washington.

In the post, ATVA says Sinclair is bicycling a pro-retrans news story on-air and online to its other stations, one that, in suggesting free TV is in jeopardy, is self-serving support for the broadcasters' position in the retrans fight rather than news.

For one thing, ATVA points to links on the end of the station Web version of the story that includes links to "CLICK HERE TO KEEP TV FREE" and "CLICK HER TO TELL CONGRESS TO KEEP TV FREE" that links to a broadcaster site pushing back on ATVA-proposed retrans changes, and the other to site for contacting members of Congress.

"The [Sinclair] story was a one-sided defense of the retransmission consent using numerous quotes from the National Association of Broadcasters and one from the American Television Alliance. It’s unsurprising broadcasters would pass self-serving content as 'news,'” blogged ATVA. "They’re desperate to save the billions they charge for the 'free' TV they claim to defend."

B&C emailed a copy of the blog posting and link to the story to Sinclair spokesman Barry Faber, who defended the story while saying he would not “dignify” many of the “outrageous" statements in the blog.

"I believe the story (which I had not even seen until your email informed me of it) fairly presented an important issue to the public," said Faber in an email Friday. "As to their complaint about the story running in numerous markets, our stations routinely share news stories that we believe are of national interest. This is the sort of efficiency in operations which allow us to present news and other great programming for free to anyone who cares to use an antenna to receive our stations."

ATVA is in a pitched battle with broadcasters over changes it is pushing for in the retransmission consent regime. ATVA, representing cable and satellite operators, says change is needed, that consumers are paying for broadcasters' increasing retrans fees in higher bills, and that broadcasters are holding stations hostage in retrans blackouts.

Broadcasters argue that cable network prices—ESPN's cost is a frequent example—are more to blame for rising bills, that the retrans system is working and that when there are few-and-far-between impasses, control over their TV station signal is the leverage they have to get cable operators to pay a fair price for their high-value content.

The argument has heated up as Congress considers how to update must-pass satellite television legislation that also includes renewing the FCC's authority to mandate good faith retransmission consent negotiations.