In late November, the Pittsburgh-based American Cable Association filed a petition with the FCC requesting that the agency require Sinclair Broadcast Group to file early renewal applications for four of its stations.
ACA’s push to get the FCC to do so continued Monday, with Reply Comments sent to the Commission noting that “Sinclair’s advocacy, if adopted, would shield if from any consequences for lying to the FCC during its attempted merger” with Tribune Media, now set to merge with Nexstar Media Group.
ACA’s arguments came in a filing made in response to a Sinclair opposition to ACA’s November petition for early renewal. Sinclair argued that, although the FCC found evidence that Sinclair had been untruthful with respect to four divestitures in the Sinclair-Tribune proceeding, such findings were irrelevant to its other licenses.
The ACA argues that this has never been the law.
“Sinclair stands accused of lying to the FCC — conduct that, if established, automatically calls into question its qualifications to hold any FCC licenses,” ACA President/CEO Matthew M. Polka charged. “All parties, including Sinclair itself, should want to resolve these questions as soon as possible. The FCC should grant ACA’s petition and institute early renewal proceedings.”
The Sinclair-owned stations involved are ABC affiliate WJLA-7 in Washington, FOX affiliate WBFF-45 in Baltimore, ABC affiliate WSET-TV in Roanoke-Lynchburg, and MyTVNetwork affiliate WTVZ-TV in Norfolk.
Fueling the ACA’s desire for the filing of early renewal applications is the FCC’s actions in July to designate an administrative law judge to determine whether Sinclair engaged in misrepresentation or a lack of candor when it attempted to acquire stations from Tribune Media— a mega-merger that was called off in August. As the FCC found “substantial and material questions of fact” regarding whether Sinclair had lied about being the “real party in interest” in three stations that it proposed to divest, the ACA believes it is pertinent Sinclair not wait.
Why? Charges levied against Sinclair have “never been resolved” because Sinclair withdrew its application. As such, the ALJ has yet to take up the designation.
“Misrepresentation and lack of candor rank among the most serious violations a licensee can commit,” the ACA argued. “A party that engages in such conduct can be found to lack the basic character qualifications to hold any FCC licenses.”
Sinclair’s next license renewals occur in 2020.
In the Dec. 17 filing, ACA explained that Sinclair’s dishonesty in the Tribune proceeding will, by law, be at issue in every future transaction or license renewal by Sinclair. This, in turn, will require an ALJ to resolve them.
“The issues designated by the FCC in the Sinclair-Tribune proceeding rank among the most visible accusations of wrongdoing in recent history,” Polka said. “Ignoring them or disposing of them without input from the public would do enormous harm to the public interest and the FCC’s institutional interests.”