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The Fate of Net Neutrality Hinges on the House

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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Free Press responded to filings by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Tribune Media, 21st Century Fox and Fox Television Stations, calling on the Federal Communications Commission to reject Sinclair’s proposed takeover of Tribune.

In a filing to the FCC, Free Press states that broadcasters continue to rely on thoroughly debunked public interest claims to bolster their weak arguments and misrepresent concerns raised by Free Press and other groups that have petitioned the agency to deny the merger.

Sinclair and the other broadcasters have utterly failed to demonstrate any public interest benefits from the transfer of broadcast licenses that is a central component of this deal, Free Press argues.

Sinclair claims that operational “efficiencies” and scale will allow it to improve local coverage.  “These claims are dubious at best,” Free Press states in its filing. “Such efficiencies are often just a euphemism for job cuts, leading to local journalist lay-offs to combine multiple competing newsrooms into a single conglomerate.”

Free Press adds: “Viewers have every reason to expect that Sinclair’s expanded control will instead lead to a decrease in local political news coverage and an uptick in highly suspect ‘must-run’ content handed down from Sinclair’s corporate headquarters.” Local viewers see no benefits from and express no increased demand for this content, which promotes anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and other racist bigotry and simply airs White House propaganda.

Thursday’s filing is the latest round of arguments between Sinclair and public-interest advocates as the FCC considers whether to approve the broadcast merger, which as originally proposed would have given the broadcast giant 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.

Earlier in the day representatives from organizations opposing the merger, including ACLU, Common Cause, CREDO Action, Daily Kos, Demand Progress, Free Press Action Fund and MPower Change, gathered outside Federal Communications Commission headquarters to protest the deal. They delivered more than 670,000 petitions calling on the agency to reject Sinclair’s proposal and commit to its central mission of promoting diversity, competition and localism over the public airwaves.

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 its proposed takeover of Tribune.

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