WASHINGTON — On Thursday morning, advocates for diverse, independent and local news are gathering in front of Federal Communications Commission headquarters to protest Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed takeover of Tribune Media.
Representatives from organizations, including ACLU, Common Cause, CREDO Action, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Free Press Action Fund and MPower Change, will deliver more than 670,000 petitions calling on the agency to reject the deal, which as originally proposed would have given Sinclair control of more than 233 local TV stations reaching 72 percent of the country’s population, far in excess of congressional and FCC limits on national and local media ownership.
People from across the political spectrum have called on the FCC to reject the deal, concerned that the merger would result in Sinclair laying off local reporters to replace their coverage with cookie-cutter content, forced broadcasts of politically biased commentary and official propaganda.
The Thursday action includes a large video screen featuring a widely viewed Deadspin video, in which dozens of Sinclair anchors are forced to read from a script provided by the company. Other video clips include a montage of Sinclair “must-run” news commentaries, including those in which former Trump administration staffer Boris Epshteyn urges viewers to support the White House’s political agenda.
Over the past 18 months, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has attempted to remove all public-interest safeguards that would prevent Sinclair’s massive merger from being approved. Following news of an internal investigation into Pai’s dealings on Sinclair, Free Press called on the chairman to recuse himself from all decisions related to Sinclair’s proposed takeover of Tribune.
“Whether it’s a viral video of all the local anchors robotically reading the same script or the scandalous giveaways it has gotten from the Trump FCC, the evidence against approving the Sinclair deal is overwhelming,” said Free Press Action Fund President and CEO Craig Aaron. “With Sinclair’s long history of using mergers to abandon localism and diversity in this way, the Commission must deny Sinclair’s proposed acquisition here if it intends to uphold its own public interest goals of promoting localism and diversity in broadcasting.”
A recent study conducted at Emory University found that Sinclair-owned stations spend about 30 percent less time on local politics than other stations do in the same markets. The same study reports that when a station is acquired by Sinclair, on average, it reduces its local politics coverage by more than 10 percent. Following Sinclair’s purchase of Bonten Media stations in 2017, those stations saw a 25 percent increase in their national political coverage, largely at the expense of local coverage. In addition, newly-acquired Sinclair stations shifted further to the right in ideological slant to match the tone of existing Sinclair stations.
“Sinclair’s biased, bigoted programming is harmful to Muslim communities and communities of color across the country,” said Mohammad Khan, campaign director of MPower Change. “The FCC’s transparently corrupt process to hand over even more control of public airwaves to Sinclair is just the latest piece of Chairman Pai’s agenda to serve massive corporations rather than the public. Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune would grant the company a near-monopolistic market share and even more power to spew harmful propaganda. The FCC must reject this merger.”
"If the dangers of media consolidation weren't already obvious, then watching Sinclair during the Trump era should make them frighteningly clear," said Brandy Doyle, campaign manager for CREDO Action. "The largest network in the country is sending local stations must-run segments defending Trump's indefensible family separation policy. It's a mouthpiece for a racist, extremist administration, and that should frighten anyone who cares about our democracy. Expanding this company’s reach even further is counter to the FCC's mission of preserving a diverse media. The FCC must reject Sinclair's proposed merger with the Tribune company."
"Our democracy depends upon a free and unfettered press, and millions of Americans depend upon their local news stations for unbiased coverage of events and issues in their communities. No one media company should have this much power and control over the information we all depend on," said Carli Stevenson, campaigner at Demand Progress. "We're calling on the FCC to do its duty to act in the public's best interest, and the public have made it clear they do not want Sinclair to take over their local news."
“Thousands of Common Cause members from across the country are taking action today to tell the FCC not to approve the Sinclair-Tribune merger,” said Yosef Getachew, director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Program. “Our members believe that local news should reflect the concerns and interests of the communities they serve, not the will of a wealthy, powerful few. Unfortunately, Sinclair has proven time and again it seeks to eliminate local news by forcing its stations to air centrally produced must-run content even over the objections of local broadcasters. This merger will only further Sinclair’s efforts to disguise its editorialized content with the voices of trusted local broadcasters while reducing the amount of independent and diverse voices in our media. Now is the time for the FCC to listen to the thousands of Americans who’ve made their voices heard and block Sinclair’s merger.”