Sinclair-Tribune Pushback Piles Up

Comments opposing the Sinclair-Tribune deal were piling up in the FCC's docket Thursday (July 12), the deadline for replies to comments on Sinclair's fifth version of the deal.

Many appeared to be form comments generated by a call to arms (headlined "Stop Trump TV!") by activist group Democratic Underground. More than half of the 25 comments on the first page of the electronic docket had the same first paragraph beginning with, "I urge the FCC to deny the merger petition..."

A spot check found at least hundreds of that same message filed with the FCC over the past couple of days in what was billed as a last-ditch effort to block the deal.

"The FCC is currently taking public comments regarding the Sinclair-Tribune merger, but we only have until TOMORROW, July 12, to submit them," read a post on on July 11. "Can you take a few minutes today to protest the merger?"

That flurry of docked activity came amid speculation the deal was close to being given the OK by the Department of Justice. Certainly that is Sinclair's hope. It has adjusted the deal a number of times in response to antitrust concerns from Justice, particularly over the concentration of ad dollars in markets where the broadcaster wanted to own two stations.

Among the other comments on the deal were those of conservative outlet Newsmax, which is part of a coalition opposing the merger. It focused on the Sinclair station spin-offs that raise issues about what control Sinclair will still wield.

"The proposed divestitures, which are necessary to bring the Sinclair-Tribune transaction into compliance with the commission’s rules, are sham transactions that enable Sinclair to retain control over the divested assets, albeit under the guise of control by a third party," Newsmax said. "This is most evident regarding the divestiture to Cunningham Broadcasting Group (“Cunningham”) and WGN-TV LLC, both of which have close connections to the controlling shareholders of Sinclair and both of which are receiving very favorable prices for the assets they hope to acquire."

While Sinclair is looking for deal approvals from the government, activists are looking for a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling on the FCC UHF discount decision that made the Sinclair-Tribune deal possible. A reversal of that decision before the FCC or DOJ weighs in would likely unwind that deal.

That decision could come out any day, or more likely any Tuesday or Friday, when the court generally releases opinions.

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.