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DOJ Settles With Sinclair Over Info Sharing Investigation

Sinclair has entered into a consent decree with the Justice Department to "resolve" DOJ's investigation into its sharing of information among "certain stations in some local markets." But it will not have to pay any fine or suffer any penalty, DOJ says.

DOJ has not filed the consent decree, but Sinclair said it expected it to by Thursday (Nov. 8).

Sinclair cited the decree in its third-quarter earnings statement. Companies are required to inform investors of regulatory or legal actions that could affect the company's performance.

Sinclair pointed out that the settlement was not an admission of guilt and did not involve "any monetary damages or penalties."

Sinclair said on its third-quarter earnings call Wednesday (Nov. 7) that the consent decree only requires it to "adopt certain additional compliance measures." Sinclair President Chris Ripley said the broadcaster agreed to the consent decree "despite our belief that there was no actual impact on pricing of advertising or any violation of antitrust laws" and because the costs of compliance with the decree were "minimal" as opposed to the legal costs of continuing to dispute it.

The Wall Street Journal reported back in July that DOJ was investigating whether TV station owners ran afoul of antitrust laws and inflated ad rates, which said the investigation stemmed from DOJ's vetting of the Sinclair-Tribune merger, which ultimately cratered.

DOJ's concerns about Sinclair's control of inventory in markets where it wanted to own two stations was one of the reasons Sinclair restructured its merger agreement, according to a source familiar with the DOJ review of that deal.

"Sinclair is not out of the woods yet," said one Democratic lobbyist. "They might have dodged a bullet for their apparent illegal collusion, but they still have a lot of explaining to do about the alleged misrepresentations they made to the government during their failed merger bid."