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WASHINGTON — The U.S Department of Justice has told AT&T executives that they may need to divest Time Warner’s Turner Networks — including CNN — for the regulator to approve AT&T’s multibillion-dollar acquisition of the media giant, according to several media reports on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump has been a fierce critic of CNN — which he frequently accuses of airing “fake news” — and made a campaign pledge to reject the AT&T deal if elected president.

Free Press opposes the massive merger on antitrust and media-concentration grounds, explaining that it would put far too much media power in the hands of one company. The deal would exacerbate the lack of media diversity while giving AT&T even more incentive to violate open-internet protections and prioritize its online content over the digital content of others.

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:

“This is a lousy deal that would raise prices and give AT&T way too much power. The Justice Department should reject it. Making AT&T sell must-have content properties like the Turner Networks and CNN, or even divest a nationwide video-distribution platform like DIRECTV, could be legitimate ways to soften the concentration harms if the deal goes through.

“While there are plenty of good reasons to oppose AT&T’s Time Warner takeover, punishing CNN for trying to hold this administration accountable isn’t one of them. No matter where you come down on this merger, everyone should agree that the government shouldn’t base antitrust decisions or FCC rulings on whether it likes a newsroom’s coverage.

“If today’s news is just cover for an attack on CNN, it’s only the latest example of how Trump is all too willing to abuse his power to intimidate the press. He’s also threatened to yank NBC licenses as punishment for critical coverage even as his FCC bends over backwards to remove all obstacles to right-wing broadcaster Sinclair’s takeover of Tribune Media.

“It’s certainly a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment. This is how leaders behave in dictatorships, not democracies.”

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