Free Press Challenges Sinclair Licenses

Less than two weeks after Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. aired a news special about anti-John Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal, a media activist group is asking the Federal Communications Commission to begin revoking the company’s TV licenses.

Free Press Monday asked the FCC to deny renewals of Sinclair licenses in North and South Carolina.

Free Press alleges that Sinclair is illegally operating duopolies in Asheville, N.C., and Charleston, S.C., in conjunction with local marketing agreement partner Cunningham Broadcasting.

Eight station licenses are at stake including Sinclair stations WXLV Winston-Salem, N.C., WUPN Greensboro, N.C., WLFL Raleigh, N.C., WRDC Durham, N.C., WLOS Asheville, N.C., and WMMP Charleston, S.C.
Free Press also opposes renewals of Cunningham stations WBSC Asheville, S.C., and WTAT Charleston, S.C.
Free Press accuses Cunningham of being “a sham owner” that has “relinquished complete economic and editorial control of its stations to Sinclair.” Carolyn Smith, mother of Sinclair CEO David Smith, is the controlling shareholder of Cunningham.
Free Press also charged that Sinclair ignores its obligations to provide programming that serves the local interests of its stations’ communities. In some markets Sinclair has cut news operations and relied on regional and national feeds from its News Central operations in Baltimore for much of its news programming.

“This practice increases the profits of Sinclair at the expense of depriving each of the communities of genuine local news and coverage of community events,” Free Press said.  Finally, Free Press alleged that Sinclair's management lacks the "character qualifications" to be television broadcast licensees, citing a $40,000 fine levied against the company for undue influence over the operations of a Cunningham predecessor company.
"Sinclair is the poster child for abuse of the public airwaves,” said Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver.
“Sinclair has a pattern of ignoring or avoiding FCC regulations, combining a unique blend of self-serving, right-wing ideology with lawless behavior that requires the FCC to take action.”
The FCC is in the middle of a multi-staged review of TV licenses that will continue through 2007. Petitions to deny renewals of North and South Carolina stations were due Monday. Licenses in those states expire Dec. 1.

Sinclair had not returned calls for comment at press time.