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Newsmax's Ruddy Meets With Pai Over Sinclair Merger

Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy met with FCC chair Ajit Pai last week to urge the FCC not to rush a decision on the $3.9 billion merger of Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Media, saying to do so gave the impression of impropriety. Ruddy has expressed numerous concerns about that deal and his conservate news network is on the record in opposition to the deal.

Ruddy suggested the FCC was rushing a decision before the ownership cap was thoroughly vetted, according to an ex parte filing on the meeting obtained by B&C. Pai and fellow Republican Michael O'Rielly voted to reinstate the UHF discount, which helps Sinclair, saying that the FCC would consider it again as part of a broader look at the 39% ownership cap.

Ruddy told Pai it appeared that Sinclair and Tribune had foreknowledge of the UHF discount decision and challenged Pai's suggestion the 39% cap is less relevant because of technology. He also said the broadcast market is not competitive because of the limits on spectrum and significant barriers to entry, among other things.

Pai has told concerned congressional Democrats that the deal-vetting was on a similar timetable as other mergers and that there was nothing untoward about the review or FCC staffers' contacts with Sinclair.

In August, Newsmax joined with other deal opponents, including industry 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 has told B&C that he is 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.

He has 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 a single company from controlling local news.

"I think the Trump administration likes the idea of having Sinclair—Trump-friendly conservatives—getting this access," he said back in August, but doesn't think the administration realizes the implications of opening the barn door for others to do the same.

While he had Pai's ear, Ruddy also talked network neutrality. He said the FCC should ensure ISPs can't block or throttle content, especially news content, and took aim at vertical integration, suggesting that Comcast, for example, which owns NBCU, had slated 11 liberal-leaning news nets, but only one conservative channel, Fox News.