WASHINGTON — Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation’s largest television-station conglomerate, is set to get even larger, according to media reports over the weekend that it will soon finalize a deal to buy Tribune Media.
This massive media merger would add 42 Tribune stations to the Sinclair empire, including stations in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver and several other top-20 markets. Sinclair already owns 173 stations blanketing many other major cities, such as Baltimore, Minneapolis, Seattle, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., as well several stations in key electoral states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. If this deal is approved, the resulting conglomerate would be able to broadcast programming to 69.4 percent of the U.S. population.
Consolidation on this scale is only possible thanks to recent rule changes by Trump’s Federal Communications Commission. In April, the agency voted to reinstate an obsolete technical loophole called the UHF discount that allows broadcast conglomerates to exceed congressionally mandated national TV audience coverage limits.
The loosening of broadcast-ownership rules came following press reports that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had conducted meetings with Sinclair executives days after the Nov. 8 presidential election. At the same time, Politico reported that Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was boasting privately about a deal he had struck before the election with the conservative broadcaster to air interviews with Trump un-interrupted by commentary. Pai was subsequently tapped by the Trump administration to lead the agency that enforces broadcast-ownership limits.
Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:
“It's a scandal. Sinclair — the Trump-favoring broadcast mega-chain — gets some FCC rules changed and expects others to be erased. All so that Sinclair can air its cookie-cutter newscasts to nearly 70 percent of the country’s population in local markets across the country.
“The Trump FCC has been gaming the rules so that Sinclair’s holdings look smaller, but even then the company still exceeds the national ownership caps. These rules were designed to ensure a diversity of local voices, and Sinclair has been using every trick in the book to evade and undermine them for years. But under Trump, it no longer has to pretend.
“Sure looks like a quid pro quo: friendly coverage and full employment for ex-Trump mouthpieces in exchange for a green light to get as big as Sinclair wants. I feel terrible for the local journalists who will be forced to set aside their news judgment to air Trump-administration talking points and reactionary commentaries from Sinclair’s headquarters. This deal would have been DOA in any other administration, but the Trump FCC isn’t just approving it; they’re practically arranging it.”