CWA Leads Guilds’ FCC Petition Seeking To Block Sinclair-Tribune Merger

Sinclair Broadcast Group; Tribune Media

The Communications Workers of America and two of its major union affiliates have petitioned the FCC to block the long-gestating Sinclair-Tribune merger.

The petition by the CWA, National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians and the NewsGuild-CWA (read it HERE), says that the merger does not serve the public interest.

“It would violate the congressionally mandated 39% national audience cap, reduce competition, harm localism, eliminate jobs, and diminish viewpoint diversity,” the petition says.

With AT&T and Time Warner finally merging after a lengthy legal detour, the combination of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media is returning to the spotlight. The controversial deal, which would make a local news powerhouse dramatically bigger, remains waylaid by a lawsuit charging that the FCC has made a series of rules changes designed to favor Sinclair. Before the ruling in that suit comes down, though, the commission could vote this summer to increase the longstanding 39% cap on local TV ownership limits. Such a decision could enable it to put its stamp on the controversial $4.6 billion tie-up.

As the approvals process, which once seemed likely to yield a win for Sinclair, started to bog down, the group started to take steps that its executive team described as alleviating some of the perceived issues with the deal. Chief among those actions was last month’s sale of a collection of stations to buyers including 21st Century Fox. But the new petition dismisses those moves, which would lower the new company’s reach to 62% of U.S. households (from more than 70% before). “Sinclair’s most recent divestiture proposal does not resolve these merger-related harms,” the petition argues. “In fact, the details of the divestiture proposal indicate that the inadequate plan will exacerbate these harms, as Sinclair will maintain effective control over at least six of those stations through ownership relationships and sidecar agreements.”

Sinclair did not immediately respond to Deadline’s request for comment on the petition.

The petition contends that there is “broad opposition” to the Sinclair-Tribune merger among a wide swath of political, activist and industry groups. The guilds also point to a recent flashpoint from last winter: the revelation of the latest scripted “must-run” segment delivered by the company’s local anchors in each market. After a compilation of the videos, which highlighted their eerie lockstep quality, went viral, critics of Sinclair pounced. The company shot back that it was merely making a statement of journalistic principle and got few if any complaints from advertisers or viewers.

“Forcing a particular viewpoint across stations – as opposed to letting local stations compete for stories and elevate issues important to local communities – results in widespread uniformity of thought,” the petition argues. “When uniformity of thought is used to push a political narrative, it becomes propaganda.”

The country’s political climate has been inextricable from the deal from the beginning. The five-member FCC is controlled by the Republicans and has moved swiftly to executive President Donald Trump’s de-regulatory agenda. Many media observers have noted the ties between the Trump Administration and Sinclair, suggesting that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, is rubber-stamping the station deal.

The guilds also filed the action as a pre-emptive strike against cuts to local news operation, which they maintain is a real threat based on Sinclair’s past behavior as a company.

“Applicants fail to demonstrate that any purported merger-related benefits exceed the substantial public interest harms.The Commission should deny the Sinclair-Tribune merger,” the petition says.

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