Sinclair: Tribune Deal Does Not Violate FCC Rules

Sinclair was vigorously defending its proposal to buy Tribune's stations against all comers Thursday (July 5), responding to critics by telling the FCC that it is being asked to make decisions based on subjective disagreements over Sinclair content or views of a marketplace that no longer exists.

In its reply to various petitions to deny the deal at the FCC, Sinclair said that critics seemed to think it was still a world with seven TV channels and phones are just phones rather than video access devices.

Among those seeking to block the deal are Dish, the American Cable Association, NCTA: The Internet & Television Association, the American Television Alliance, Communications Workers of America, Free Press, National Hispanic Media Association, Independent Programmers, Newsmax, and the ACLU.

Related: Groups Petition FCC To Delay Sinclair-Tribune Decision

Contrary to the "sky is falling" rhetoric from its opponents, its not falling, Sinclair said. 

"Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune will not radically disrupt the media marketplace or impede viewers’ access to quality local news, nor will it violate any FCC rules or policies."

And while critics have said Sinclair is trying to skirt the spirit of the FCC rules through sidecar deals that give it continuing relationships with some of the stations it is spinning off, Sinclair says: "The proposed divestitures, including those that contain sharing arrangements, are consistent with the rules and with other transactions previously approved by the Commission."

Sinclair has modified the deal numerous times to square with FCC deregulatory moves--for which Sinclair pushed--and to make the deal more palatable to the Justice Department's concerns over share of ad revenue in local markets.

It has already responded to a first batch of petitions to deny, but critics a subsequent chance to oppose the latest, and presumably last, iteration.

Sinclair pointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals' decision allowing the combination of AT&T and Time Warner's Turner programming assets, in which the court said that "the idea that Google, Facebook, YouTube and Netflix do not compete with traditional programmers and MVPDs “defies reality.”

Related: Demand Progress Calls For Flood of Sinclair-Tribune Decisions

Sinclair said flatly that there have "never been more voices available to consumers than exist today." It's argument since it filed the deal over a year ago has been that allowing it to amplify its own voice is simply giving it a better chance to be heard in that cacophany of choice and against online and MVPD competitors with no limits on their national megaphone.

"If traditional MVPD giants are threatened by the emergence and exponential growth of these new video competitors, imagine the impact on independent broadcasters—the largest of which have valuations in the $3-4 billion range—who rely on the same eyeballs for ratings and ad revenues to acquire increasingly expensive content and to produce local programming," it said.

And Sinclair suggests that its critics' "parade of horribles" is illusory.

"Because Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune will neither violate any FCC rules or policies nor impede viewers’ access to high-quality local news and information programming, petitioners resort to speculation, exaggeration and outright misstatement to conjure alleged harm," it says.

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.