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D.C. Players Back, Buck Sinclair-Tribune Deal

Washington weighed in on the news that Sinclair and Tribune had struck a $3.9 billion deal to merge, with likely some stations having to be spun off per FCC ownership limits, unless the current deregulatory-minded FCC could loosen them first.

"Our civic dialogue suffers yet another blow," said former Democratic FCC chairman Michael Copps, now an advisor to Common Cause. He called the deal "Expected and disappointing. Expected because the new FCC majority is foaming at the mouth to approve more media mergers; disappointing because Sinclair is not known for the best journalism in the land, to put it mildly."

“You can rest assured that there will be the usual opposition to the deal based on allegations of ‘media concentration’ and ‘powerful behemoths,'" said Randolph May, president of media-centric think tank the Free State Foundation. "The reality is that there are more media outlets — and more diversity of media voices — than ever before. So, if the proposal complies with all of the Commission’s current rules, it should be approved, and without undue delay. But, the more important point to make, of course, is that the current rules are woefully out of date. They no longer reflect the realities of today’s diverse and competitive media marketplace and haven’t for some time. They need to be liberalized.”

“This deal is yet another example of media consolidation that can harm consumers," said John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge. “In addition to reducing viewpoint diversity and contributing to the homogenization of broadcasting, large broadcast chains are one of the primary drivers of rising cable bills. By tying together multiple markets in retransmission consent negotiations, companies like Sinclair are able to demand higher payments for their signals. Consumers ultimately foot the bill. Despite Sinclair’s ties to the Trump administration, we hope that the Department of Justice and FCC will closely examine this deal and reject it and any other merger that leads to higher prices for consumers or harms the public interest.”

Adonis Hoffman, former chief of staff to FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn and chairman of Business in the Public Interest, said any divestitures by Sinclair would create opportunities for other groups “looking to bulk up."

“The free market is alive and well in broadcast,” Hoffman said. "Sinclair's acquisition of Tribune comes at a time when the FCC has reinstituted the UHF discount, and is poised to raise the ownership cap. Congress also has blessed the reinstatement of JSAs."

He also saw the creation of a larger, stronger group as being able to better negotiate for carriage. "These policies pave the way for a large and powerful group, which should have scale and more balance in retrans negotiations."

Free Press President Craig Aaron was not happy.

“It's a scandal," he said. "Sinclair — the Trump-favoring broadcast mega-chain — gets some FCC rules changed and expects others to be erased. All so that Sinclair can air its cookie-cutter newscasts to nearly 70 percent of the country’s population in local markets across the country.

“The Trump FCC has been gaming the rules so that Sinclair’s holdings look smaller, but even then the company still exceeds the national ownership caps. These rules were designed to ensure a diversity of local voices, and Sinclair has been using every trick in the book to evade and undermine them for years. But under Trump, it no longer has to pretend."

(Photo via Pictures of Money's FlickrImage taken on Sept. 17, 2015 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)