No Justice Signal Yet on Sinclair-Tribune

The Justice Department still has not said whether it is satisfied with Sinclair Broadcast Group's spin-offs and sidecar deals related to its proposed Tribune Media merger. 

DOJ signaled Friday there would be announcements out of the Civil Rights division, the Criminal division, the Deputy Attorney General's office, the National Security division and the Tax Division, but nothing out of the Antitrust division, which is reviewing the proposed Tribune merger.

Sinclair this week identified Fox as buyer of the seven stations whose potential owners had still to be announced as it attempted to get the deal review wheels moving.

At press time the FCC had yet to restart its informal 180-day shot clock on its public interest review of the deal. It has been stuck on day 167 since January, but with the various stoppages the FCC has actually had the deal before it for over 300 days and counting--well, in this case not yet counting.

Related: Tick but no Tock

Sinclair is under a bit of a time crunch given that a federal court could rule in the next few weeks on whether to overturn the FCC's restoration of the UHF discount, a move that allowed Sinclair to buy the Tribune stations without wildly exceeding the FCC's 39% audience reach cap for group owners.

Deal critics including Hill Dems and Democratic commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel have said the FCC should not rule on the deal until the court weighs in. 

She made that point emphatically at the FCC's public meeting Thursday (May 10), saying a decision before the court ruled on whether the FCC should have restored the discount would be "lawless."

For their part, the Republicans said they were ready to vote the item as soon as the chairman, who controls the calendar, schedules it.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai would not promise to delay the FCC decision until after the court decision when asked to do so by Hill Dems. 

Pai did say he would factor the potential court decision into the FCC's decisionmaking. One thing the FCC could do would be to condition the deal on the court upholding the UHF discount.

The FCC may not be able to rule on the deal before the court weighs in anyway. When it does restart the clock, it will also seek comment on whatever it has deemed to be the final version of the deal--Sinclair will have filed five different versions at least. That will take another 4-6 weeks before the FCC can rule, the same time frame court watchers are looking for a decision out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on the UHF discount.  

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.