Sinclair Broadcast Group would have to face the issue of its fitness to be a licensee if it seeks Federal Communications Commission permission to transfer licenses related to the Fox regional sports networks it is buying from The Walt Disney Co.
An FCC spokesperson said, when asked by inquiring minds like The Wire’s whether or not the FCC will have to review that transaction, that it is up to the companies. That sounds darned sporting of the regulator, but what they meant by that was that, yes, if Sinclair wants to transfer the licenses for, say, transmitting live sports footage back to studios, it must seek the commission’s permission.
But there are other options, as AT&T demonstrated in its purchase of Time Warner, which it was able to structure such that the CNN newsgathering licenses were not being transferred.
According to the FCC, Sinclair can transfer the licenses, thus subjecting the deal to agency review, and expose Sinclair to that fitness issue raised in its aborted effort to buy station group Tribune Broadcasting. Sinclair also could let the licenses expire and reapply for them, or it can turn them in and reapply for them, both of which would also let folks talk about whether Sinclair is.
“But we can’t tell them what to do,” the spokesperson said. Perhaps in this case, but in others you could probably get some industry argument on that point.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.