Unions Try to Block Tegna-Standard General Deal

Tegna HQ in McLean, Va.
(Image credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Some powerful unions are teaming up to try and block investment firm Standard General’s purchase of Tegna, with the financial help of Apollo Global Management

The NewsGuild-CWA and and the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET)-CWA filed a petition to dismiss or deny the deal with the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday (June 22), the deadline for such filings.

They say the deal, which was approved by Tegna shareholders in May, and interrelated transactions — what they labeled an “unprecedented array of sequenced transactions and swaps” — are actually an attempt to “game the Commission’s ownership and retransmission consent rules in ways that contravene the Commission’s public interest standard.”

Also: Standard Media CEO Deb McDermott Tells Tegna Staff News Jobs Won’t Be Cut

Tegna and Apollo have argued that the deal, valued at about $8.6 billion, is in the public interest and will allow for improved local TV-station service, including by boosting local news, creating "the country’s largest minority-owned and female-led TV broadcasting company in U.S. history."

But the unions counter that those assertions of public interest hardly outweigh the deal's downsides, which they say are “significant losses to ownership diversity, to the health and capacity of local journalism and to the cost of pay TV services that would result from grant of the applications.”

After concerns about retrans were raised, the FCC earlier this month issued a request for more information about the deal, including its “anticipated retransmission negotiating strategy post-transaction.”

Also: NewsGuild Calls On Biden to Help Block Tegna Deal

The FCC also asked about any potential layoffs and whether the combined company — or Apollo, which is getting some of the stations in a spinoff side deal — are striking any sharing arrangements or agreements “related to programming, operations or sale of advertising," particularly in the same market. Those are the kinds of deals some critics see as a means to dodge local ownership limits.

In its response to the FCC, Standard General said that the deal would not result in Apollo having any influence or control over the merged companies operations, including its TV stations' retrans consent negotiations and, with one short-term exception, the merged company "will not enter into any Sharing Agreements or other agreements related to programming, operations, or sale of advertising with each other for any station." 

"Standard General has a demonstrable historical commitment to local news operations and pursued this transaction because it has a vision for growing TEGNA’s presence as a leading local broadcast television company employing state-of-the-art technology to provide trusted local news coverage and programming targeted to local audience," said the company in a statement. "Standard General has always placed a high value on local journalism and has no intention, and has not had any intention, of reducing news or news staff at TEGNA stations."

Tegna owns 64 television stations in 51 U.S. markets. It also owns multicast networks True Crime Network, Twist and Quest and advanced-advertising company Premion. ■

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.