Knives Are Out for Sinclair-Tribune Deal

Sinclair Broadcast Group continues to take plenty of flak for its effort to buy Tribune Media's 42 stations in a deal valued at $3.9 billion.

This week it came in various new forms highlighted by the Coalition to Save Local Media, a group of deal critics that includes cable and satellite operators. Among the members are the American Cable Association, Dish Network, Common Cause, Public Knowledge, Herring Networks, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, the Competitive Carriers Association and the Computer & Communications Industry Association.

PBS NewsHour devoted a segment this week to the merger, saying the merger was raising concerns "because of Sinclair’s policy of combining news with partisan political opinion."

It was clear where PBS was coming from given the headline: "How Sinclair broadcasting puts a partisan tilt on trusted local news," and from the fact that a link to the broadcast was circulated by the Save the Media coalition with the headline: "PBS NewsHour Sounds the Alarm on Sinclair Tribune."

The story's voices were all critical of the deal and the company, and warned of various negative outcomes. It included a reference to Sinclair's decision back in 2004 to preempt a Nightline segment featuring the names of soldiers who had been killed in Iraq.

The coalition also circulated two other items: FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel's speech to a conference of Catholic Bishops in which she warned about the deal in the larger context of consolidation, which she said was not the remedy for broadcasting's ills; and an op ed from former John Kerry campaign official David Wade, who likened Sinclair to Russian election meddlers and even mass murderer Pol Pot, suggesting the broadcaster could be the death of trusted local news.

The Kerry campaign had a run-in with the broadcaster over a controversial documentary--which Sinclair ultimately did not air--that gave rise to the term "swiftboating." Sinclair got pushback from Democrats who argued the anti-Kerry documentary constituted an illegal contribution to the campaign of his rival, George W. Bush.

The FCC is currently on day 99 of its informal 180-day review of the deal. Just last week the FCC got Sinclair's answers to a bunch of new questions the Media Bureau had about the deal's structure and merits, and the public gets a chance to respond to that new information.

John Eggerton

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.