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Presidential Hopefuls Take Aim at Sinclair RSN Deal

A trio of Democratic Senators/presidential candidates has asked both the FCC and Justice Department to take a hard look at Sinclair's purchase of Disney's (formerly Fox's) 21 regional sports networks (RSNs), saying they are worried both about Sinclair combining the RSNs with its TV stations to raise the price of carriage for the latter, and about the "danger" of Sinclair's "partisan political" programming getting a wider audience.

Related: ACA Connects Seeks Sinclair/Disney Deal Disconnect

That came in a letter to both DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai from Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Cory Booker (New Jersey) and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with the Dems.

While the deal does not involve any FCC licenses, so doesn't have to be vetted by the FCC, the Department of Justice reviews deals of such magnitude for antitrust issues.

Related: Sinclair Looking to STIRR-up RSN Content

"Given Sinclair's history of attempting to skirt FCC rules, its current dominance over local
television broadcasting, and its power in sports broadcasting, the recently announced acquisition of the Fox RSNs raise significant questions about the effects the deal is likely to have on consumers," they wrote.

They want answers to the following questions by July 8:

  1. "Have Sinclair Broadcast Corp. and/or the Walt Disney Company filed applications seeking your Department's consent to transfer control of Disney's 21 Regional Sports Networks and Fox College Sports to Sinclair? If so, when did they file these applications?"
  2. "Does your Department plan to issue a Public Notice that the application has been
  3. accepted for filing? Does your Department plan to issue a Public Notice setting aschedule for the public to submit comments on the application?"

The Free State Foundation, a free market think tank, said neither the FCC nor Justice has any business judging whether Sinclair's programming is partisan or conservative.

"For either agency to do what the Senators ask is inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and freedom of the press. The Senators know better — or surely should if they wish to run for president," said Free State President Randolph May. "Aside from whether their characterizations of Sinclair’s programming are even accurate, their purpose, an improper one, is to use government power to influence Sinclair’s editorial discretion."