McCaskill to FCC: Sinclair Deal Would Need St. Louis Spin-Off

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has asked the FCC not to let Sinclair own two of the top four stations in St. Louis.

In a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, McCaskill said she had concerns about the impact of the Sinclair-Tribune merger on the market, where Sinclair owns ABC affiliate KDNL and Tribune has the Fox affiliate, KTVI.

The FCC last month voted to loosen broadcast media ownership restrictions, including the absolute prohibition on owning two of the top four-rated stations in a market. Such ownership is still presumptively out of bounds, but the FCC will entertain waivers on a case-by-case basis. McCaskill suggested this case is not one of those.

Sinclair has said it would add news to KDNL if the deal is approved, but McCaskill says that is too little too late for a company, Sinclair, for which she clearly has no great affection, saying it has shown a "stunning disregard for local news."

She pointed out that it had dropped local news on KDNL back in October 2001, with only a brief return in 2011-2013 in partnership with the NBC affiliate there.

I urge you to strictly enforce the prohibition on a broadcaster owning more than one top four television station in a market if the Sinclair-Tribune merger is approved," she said. Still, strictly enforcing the new rule, which is short of a flat out prohibition, would still allow dual ownership if the FCC concluded it was in the public interest.

Sinclair has said it will spin off whatever stations it has to to comply with relevant FCC rules, but the FCC has made it easier for broadcast groups to add more stations by restoring the UHF discount and loosening the duopoly and crossownership rules.

Related: Pelosi: FCC Can't Apply UHF Discount to Sinclair Deal

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.