WASHINGTON, D.C. — The pending merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group with Tribune Media appears to be progressing toward its likely approval by the FCC, thanks to the Commission’s refusal on Thursday to allow more time than was established for public comments, reply comments, and responses to reply comments regarding the blockbuster deal.
That hasn’t stopped the “Movants” — DISH Network, the American Cable Association (ACA), and Public Knowledge — from continuing their collective fight to stop the merger. A Monday press call has been scheduled to formally announce a host FCC filings in opposition to Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune Media. In doing so, the groups reiterated “their strong commitment to protecting independent local news.”
The conference call seeks to codify a call to reject the Sinclair-Tribune merger from groups other than DISH Network and the ACA.
In fact, a former FCC Commissioner has latched on to the opposition.
Michael Copps, who served on the Commission from 2001-2011 and is presently a special adviser to Common Cause, will join Tim Donovan, Senior Vice President of Legislative Affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, ACA President/CEO Matthew Polka, One American News Network President Charles Herring and Computer and Communications Industry Association President/CEO Ed Black on the call. As of 2:30pm Eastern Friday, Public Knowledge was not participating in the call. A DISH representative will not attend, as originally planned.
It is the groups’ belief that, through its acquisition of Tribune, Sinclair “will stifle local and independent media voices and put profits ahead of their local viewers, jeopardizing both localism and competition. Additionally, this massive consolidation, if approved, will raise prices for consumers because of higher prices the combined Sinclair-Tribune will demand to distribute its content.”
Sinclair’s “must carry” newscast commentary, as some see it, first came to the nation’s attention in May, thanks to a report in The New York Times. In July, it received wider coverage via the satirical HBO news program Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.
In both instances, Sinclair was criticized for a policy of requiring all owned-and-operated stations to air a daily segment from the “Terrorism Alert Desk,” created in fall 2015, while also airing commentary from former company executive Mark Hyman, under the banner “Behind the Headlines.” The content is largely based on conservative values and political beliefs strongest with Republicans.
While TV stations for decades have offered opinion pieces and commentary as an extension of their newscasts and newspapers have provided consumers with opinion and editorial pages since the 1700s, the “forced” airing of the features has come under fire.
The FCC on July 6 released a Public Notice seeking comment on the Tribune-Sinclair deal. It set Monday, Aug. 7, as the date for filing comments and petitions to deny; Aug. 22 as the deadline for reply comments; and Aug. 29 as the deadline for filing responses to the reply comments.
The Movants requested more time so they could gather additional documents deemed necessary for the Commission and the public to assess whether the proposed transaction is in the public interest. That request was denied, with the Commission noting, “If they believe that the Applications are substantially incomplete or that they fundamentally lack the information to establish that the proposed transaction is in the public interest, the proper procedure is for Movants to file a petition to deny on those grounds. Further, we find that the Movants do not need access to the wide-ranging and highly confidential information Movants request the Commission to demand in order to file a petition to deny.”
The Movants wanted the FCC to extend the petition to deny deadline to at least 30 days following the public’s access.