WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press filed its reply to last week’s Sinclair Broadcast Group merger filing at the Federal Communications Commission. Sinclair’s filing should have been an opportunity for the company to explain the supposed benefits of its merger with Tribune Media Company, but Sinclair largely used its submission to attack organizations and individuals that asked the FCC to deny the proposed deal.
Earlier this month, Free Press filed a petition asking the FCC to halt the transfer of broadcast licenses that would give 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.
On Aug. 22, Sinclair filed its response to these petitions from Free Press and others, claiming that its massive merger with Tribune “will serve the public interest in myriad ways” despite these ownership-rule violations. Sinclair specifically called out Free Press’ petition in its response, offering flippant denials of the merger’s harms and empty claims designed to convince the FCC to allow just a handful of monopoly-minded broadcasters to control the airwaves nationwide.
In its response, Free Press explains how the merger blatantly violates the FCC’s broadcast-ownership rules and undermines the FCC’s goals of promoting localism, diversity and competition in broadcasting.
Sinclair offers “little to no substantive basis on which to dispute this evidence,” Free Press notes in its filing. “Applicants resorted to mischaracterizing the arguments in our Petition to Deny, harping on minute technical discrepancies, and conjuring up empty procedural claims suggesting that relevant issues be addressed in a rulemaking proceeding instead. Their energies, and transparent attempts to distract the Commission from the issues at hand, are misplaced.”
Free Press’ response to Sinclair is available here: https://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/resources/free_press_reply_to_sinclair.pdf
In addition to violating the agency’s longstanding ownership rules, the merger would give an even bigger megaphone to a company that forces its stations to run right-wing political commentaries every single day. Sinclair routinely overrides the objections of local journalists and fails to provide coverage that serves community needs. At its worst, Sinclair uses its massive network of broadcast stations to fan the flames of racial and religious prejudice and put local communities at risk. “When a broadcaster’s political perspective is so strident that it inhibits local editorial control and subverts localism, the Commission must consider whether that broadcaster is acting in the public interest,” reads the Free Press response.
“Sinclair has long evaded the FCC rules it’s now trying to completely erase with the help of the Trump FCC under Chairman Pai,” said Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. “Sinclair forces its local stations to air pro-Trump propaganda and then seeks favors from the Trump administration worth billions. This should be a national scandal. And if it’s allowed to happen, it will unleash a new and unprecedented wave of consolidation in local TV that may boost short-term stock prices but will spell long-term disaster for local communities.”
“For all their bluster, Sinclair and Tribune have once again failed to show how this unprecedented merger could possibly serve the public interest,” said Free Press Policy Analyst Dana Floberg. “Instead they seek to distract the FCC with boasting and technical quibbles in the hopes that Chairman Pai will overlook the transaction’s blatant violations of FCC ownership rules. The reality is that this deal would seriously harm people of color, low-income families and other communities that rely on local television for local news. It would silence independent community voices while giving mega-broadcaster Sinclair even more control over what we see and hear on the news.”