Earlier this week, Free Press told the FCC that the Deadspin video (depicting anchors at Sinclair-owned stations reading the same “must-run” script) demonstrates how the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger would be, to borrow a phrase, “extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
Many of us were disturbed to see the video of dozens of local news anchors across the country reciting Trumpian “fake news” rhetoric. But this is not the first time Sinclair has abused its power to advance its political and corporate agenda. The broadcast giant has a long history of forcing its many local stations to broadcast self-serving scripts and prepackaged segments – and disguising these must-runs as news.
These segments often demonize marginalized people including Black and Muslim communities. They also force local and diverse voices off the air. A recent study showed that when Sinclair purchases a new station, its local political coverage decreases by more than 10 percent – often to be replaced with cookie-cutter national political commentary, such as must-run segments by former Trump spokesman Boris Epshteyn. On top of stealing on-air minutes from locally-centered news, the study also found that coverage by newly-acquired Sinclair stations shifts ideologically further to the right once Sinclair takes over.
Local journalists at Sinclair-owned stations feel trapped by the broadcaster’s propagandistic corporate directives. Instead of being able to make news and editorial decisions based on the local communities they serve, local reporters are forced to air Sinclair’s content, becoming political pawns for the conglomerate.
Why is Sinclair gutting local news and forcing its political agenda on local stations? Hint: It’s not to serve the viewers. As the Free Press letter states, “Sinclair’s acquisition model is geared towards achieving massive economies of scale and cutting newsroom costs rather than investing in communities or competing to best serve the public.”
Sinclair is betting that by airing news and commentary that flatters the administration, it will receive policy favors from Trump’s FCC Chair Ajit Pai that allow the company to gobble up even more local stations. (Even the FCC Inspector General is investigating whether Chairman Pai’s decisions have improperly cleared a regulatory path for approval of Sinclair’s proposed merger.)
The broadcaster is betting it can continue to profit from buying up stations, firing journalists, and exploiting its media empire to push these toxic “must-runs” – but we are calling them out.
In the two weeks since the Deadspin video was released, tens of thousands of people have signed a petition roundly condemning Sinclair’s actions. Free Press is also fighting back against the FCC’s efforts to grease the wheels for the merger by raising the national ownership cap and reinstating an analog-era loophole called the UHF discount.
We need everyone in this fight to #StopSinclair and start building the media system our communities deserve. Let’s get loud!