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Rainbow PUSH Petitions FCC to Reverse Sinclair/Allbritton Decision

Rainbow PUSH is challenging the FCC Media Bureau's approval of Sinclair's purchase of Allbritton's TV stations, saying that the FCC's failure to designate the deal for evidentiary hearing was "in conflict with statute, regulation, and case precedent requiring designation for hearing when a substantial and material question of fact is presented."

The group wants the FCC to hold that hearing.

Rainbow PUSH had asked for the hearing, citing the FCC's fining of Sinclair and Glencairn back in 2001 — after an earlier petition by Rainbow PUSH — and its finding that Sinclair had tried to own more stations than it was allowed to under the duopoly rule by spinning them off by having Glenciarn own the stations but essentially cede control to Sinclair.

Rainbow PUSH then challenged Cunningham Broadcasting, a station owner it said was also controlled by Sinclair, this time through family connections.

The group, founded by Rev. Jesse Jackson, says that the case is of "great importance" since it involves the character qualifications of the nation's largest broadcaster and should be heard by the full commission.

"The Commission at last has an opportunity to consider whether its largest television licensee, as a lawbreaker and serial recidivist, is entitled to be a licensee," Rainbow PUSH said.

Sinclair had no immediate response. "We will file a response in due course," said Sinclair executive Barry Faber.

In approving the deal in July, the FCC said Rainbow PUSH had not made a case for blocking the deal, and denied its petition. But the bureau did say that it had "concerns regarding an LMA that had existed between Sinclair and Cunningham in the Charleston market." The Media Bureau said it believed "the facts show that Sinclair apparently violated the local TV ownership rule with respect to its continued operation of the LMA in Charleston, and we plan to issue an order addressing this potential violation specifically."

The Bureau said that was not enough to block the deal, but it is still concerned.

Sinclair announced July 29, 2013, that it had struck a $985 million deal for Allbritton's TV stations, including WJLA Washington, and its NewsChannel 8 regional cable news net. At the time, the deal was expected to close by the fourth quarter, but the FCC under chairman Tom Wheeler has been going over deals involving sharing arrangements with a fine-tooth-comb and signaled they would take extra time to vet.

In March, following signals from the FCC that it was giving sharing deals the eagle, some argued evil, eye, Sinclair restructured the deal to get rid of the shared services arrangements the FCC is looking askance at in some circumstances. That included stations in South Carolina and Alabama slated to go dark as part of Sinclair's effort to get the FCC to approve the deal.