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After Buffalo, Media and Tech Can’t Look Away Any Longer

This tragedy should be a catalyst to a fundamental reckoning.
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Early this morning, Tribune backed out of its $3.9-billion merger with the Sinclair Broadcast Group, torpedoing the deal and suing Sinclair for $1 billion for screwing it up.

We couldn’t be happier.

Free Press has been fighting Sinclair since 2004 — and we’ve been out front since this deal was announced last May, sounding the alarm over a merger that would have forced the company’s noxious newscasts into more than 70 percent of U.S. homes. We helped expose Sinclair’s history of setting up shady front groups, pushing reactionary and often racist must-run content, and requiring local journalists to read company propaganda.

In the past six months, Sinclair broke through in the public consciousness thanks to major exposés, viral videos and protests we organized in the streets. This public pressure made Sinclair politically toxic and set up its fall. We also led the charge at the FCC, disrupting the deal with a series of legal filings that got the facts on the record.

Once the political winds shifted against Sinclair, the knives came out. The company’s corporate and conservative opponents (who feared how Sinclair would exploit anti-competitive advantages) saw a new opening to stop the merger.

And Sinclair’s greed and obstinance caught up with it. Instead of selling off stations to get in line with severely weakened media-ownership rules, Sinclair tried to set up its cronies to run shell companies. By July, the FCC was accusing Sinclair of misleading the agency, and the Justice Department was preparing an investigation into how the company might be manipulating the ad market.

Today it all fell apart.

This is great news for dozens of local communities that won’t have to endure Sinclair’s right-wing must-run segments. We owe thanks to the investigative reporters at places like The New York Times and Mother Jones who stayed on this story. And to the FCC itself, where for once Ajit Pai & Co. did the right thing.

But mostly our gratitude goes out to the millions of activists who didn’t swallow the conventional wisdom and kept fighting, especially the locals in places like Baltimore — where Sinclair is headquartered — who showed up time and again with their Indivisible and Huddle groups to help us raise hell. And of course to all of our members for making this work possible and stepping up even when the odds of winning seemed long.

While we hope this victory marks a new era of reality-based policymaking at the FCC, we aren’t holding our breath. We’ll fight any mergers that show up in the wake of this failed deal and we’re suing the agency to overturn its decision gutting the media-ownership rules.

In the long run, we’ll be pushing Congress to clean up this mess, get rid of special favors like the so-called UHF discount that benefit only the biggest conglomerates, pass laws that lower the number of stations one company can own, and put media back in the hands of independent owners and local communities.

Right now that might seem impossible. But so did stopping Sinclair.

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