Newsmax’s Ruddy: Sinclair/Tribune Combo Is Dangerous Proposition

Newsmax Media CEO Chris Ruddy said that while he does think the proposed Sinclair/Tribune deal could limit competition and diversity on cable—in addition to a conservative web site he runs a similar TV network looking for shelf space—that is not his principal objection to the merger.

Newsmax joined with other deal opponents, including from associations and progressive groups, to tell the FCC the deal was not in the public interest, an opposition Sinclair countered in a lengthy filing with the FCC late Aug. 22.

Ruddy told B&C that he was concerned with the FCC allowing the merged companies to potentially reach over 70% of the country. That is thanks to the decision by the new FCC Republican majority to reinstate the UHF discount that allows a UHF station owner to count only half of its audience toward the 39% national audience reach cap.

Related: Coalition Formed to Fight Sinclair/Tribune

He said allowing one broadcaster access to over 70% of the national audience is a "very dangerous situation" given that ownership caps were instituted to prevent an owner from controlling local news. "I think the Trump administration likes the idea of having Sinclair—Trump-friendly conservatives—getting this access," he said, but doesn't think the Administration realizes the implications of opening the barn door for others to do the same.

Ruddy said that the ownership caps are still needed. He said arguments that over-the-top has rendered them meaningless are specious. "[T]here is no real competition for local television news on the internet and in local markets," he said. "Local TV news is still the main way most Americans get their news." 

He suggests the merger pushback has done something pretty tough to do in Washington these days: Bring the left and right together in common purpose.

"I believe this issue actually unites conservatives and liberals," he told B&C. "Conservatives like the idea of media diversity across the country; liberals don't like the idea of huge corporate conglomerates controlling news delivery and local programming."

As to whether he fears a more powerful Sinclair would be a stronger competitor to his conservative news platforms, Ruddy said that is not the case.

"I am not afraid of Sinclair starting a NewsmaxTV competitor or Fox News look-alike. When I started Newsmax back almost 20 years ago we were the leading conservative online website. Many people have entered the market since, and what we have seen is that as the pie got bigger, the market opportunities for us actually grew."

Sinclair argues that the deal will save free broadcasting and help Sinclair/Tribune to better compete with the less regulated delivery platforms of over-the-top and pay TV.

Ultimately the FCC—and Justice Department—will decide who has made the stronger case.

The FCC is currently on day 48 of its review, according to its unofficial countdown clock—it targets 180 days for deal vetting, but has often honored that as much in the breach as the observance, including taking 327 days to sign off on Sinclair's purchase of Allbritton stations three years ago.

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.