Sinclair Broadcasting has told FCC chairman Ajit Pai that it shares Sen. Claire McCaskill's frustration with the lack of "traditional local news" on its KDNL St. Louis, but not with the remedy she suggested.
That came in a letter from Sinclair group VP of news Scott Livingston to Pai Tuesday (Dec. 12), according to a copy obtained by B&C.
In a letter to Pai, McCaskill (D-Mo.) had asked him not to let Sinclair own two of the top four stations in St. Louis if the FCC allows Sinclair to merge with Tribune, which also has a top-four station there.
"Contrary to Senator McCaskill’s assertion, Sinclair has not 'demonstrated a stunning disregard for local news,' said Livingston of McCaskill's accusation. "In fact, Sinclair has demonstrated exactly the opposite, as evidenced by the more than 2,400 hours of local news, produced each week by in excess of 4,000 news employees located in 79 markets throughout the country. In other words, the lack of local news on Sinclair’s station in St. Louis is the exception, not the norm."
Livingston ticked off a list of reasons that local news did not work on the station (see below), and pointed out it had run news at a "significant" loss for years "being forced to discontinue the production of local news to meet our public company fiduciary obligations to our shareholders," then teamed up with another station in the market on news before that relationship ended, then created a news talk show to provide some news in the market.
He says that allowing Sinclair to own KDNL and the Tribune station would allow it to combine resources and return traditional local news to KDNL, which would not happen if it could not combine resources. He added he doubted it would happen if anyone else owned KDNL as a stand-alone.
Related: McCaskill to FCC: Sinclair Deal Would Need St. Louis Spin-Off
Livingston's letter is reprinted in full below:
Dear Chairman Pai:
As Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Vice President of News, I am writing to let you know that I share the frustration Senator Claire McCaskill recently shared with you regarding the lack of traditional local news programming on KDNL-TV, Sinclair’s ABC affiliate in St. Louis. Where my view diverges from that of Senator McCaskill is how to remedy this problem.
Contrary to Senator McCaskill’s assertion, Sinclair has not “demonstrated a stunning disregard for local news.” In fact, Sinclair has demonstrated exactly the opposite, as evidenced by the more than 2,400 hours of local news, produced each week by in excess of 4,000 news employees located in 79 markets throughout the country. In other words, the lack of local news on Sinclair’s station in St. Louis is the exception, not the norm.
Our inability to broadcast traditional local news in St. Louis is a result of numerous factors, including the historic weakness of the station (which was an independent television station for many years), the entrenched news viewership habits of the St. Louis public, and extremely high production costs in that market. Notwithstanding these issues, KDNL did broadcast news at a significant economic loss for many years before being forced to discontinue the production of local news to meet our public company fiduciary obligations to our shareholders. We subsequently aired newscasts produced by another station in St. Louis before that station discontinued this relationship. Thereafter we launched a news talk show in order to provide some news programming in St. Louis.
A primary benefit of the Tribune acquisition as it relates to the St. Louis market would be the efficiencies created by owning more than one station in that market. Simply put, it is far less expensive for an existing news producing station to share news resources with an additional in-market station than it would be for such additional station to produce news on its own. As a result, if we are allowed to purchase Tribune’s television stations in St. Louis, we plan to begin producing and broadcasting traditional local news programming on KDNL. This is not something that we believe would take place if KDNL were to remain separately owned, whether by Sinclair or another broadcast company
Sinclair takes its public interest obligations very seriously and is extremely proud of our strong commitment to local news across our entire platform. We appreciate Senator McCaskill highlighting the unique situation which precludes the ABC station in St. Louis from being able to produce news on its own and are glad to have had this opportunity to point out the tremendous public benefit that would result from the combination of the Sinclair and Tribune television stations in that market.
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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.