aside Right Wing Sinclair Broadcast Expanding Into Many Local Markets With Help From FCC

Talk about the fox guarding the hen-house analogy. While we (me) were asleep at the switch, the republican President Donald Trump appointed in April 2017, a major “net neutrality” foe to head the FCC, Ajit Pai.

We all have noticed the right wing conservatives complaining about the traditional establishment outlets as being anti-President Trump and unfair in their coverage. The White Supremacists and other conservative folks in the White House would like to have better control over their messaging that they could widely disseminate. Well, they have just escalated their plans towards this goal, bigly.

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Recently, the FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai managed to revive a loophole which violates, at least in spirit, the “congressional enacted national ownership cap” which would typically limit any media outlet, like Sinclair from expanding beyond the limit of 39% of American viewership.

The day after Ajit Pai became the FCC head, he had the FCC regulators vote  to ease a limit on TV-station ownership, a step that opened a door to mergers such as Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s bid for Tribune Media Co.

But the set up for this vote began as early as August 2016.  See: Federal Communications Commission FCC 16-116 …

 The Federal Communications Commission, on a 2-1 Republican-led vote on April 20, 2017, restored the practice of counting just part of some stations’ audience. Shrinking the audience allows more room to buy stations before a company reaches the limit of serving 39 percent of the national TV viewership.”
This loophole will allow Sinclair Broadcasting to expand up to  233 stations that could reach 72 percent of American households.” This would be analogous to a more right wing media giant than FOX TV  purchasing local stations to spread its conservative view of the news content to reach 72% of American households versus the standard national limit of 39%. But unlike FOX TV where the viewer knows they will be watching conservative leaning shows, with Sinclair owned stations, the consumers will simply think they are tuning in to local TV news shows.

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As per a 8/23/17 Baltimore Sun report by Lorraine Mirabella,, “Sinclair, which grew out of WBFF Fox 45 in Baltimore, announced plans in May to buy Tribune, with would give it 233 television stations that reach 72 percent of U.S. households. The deal is made possible by a recent FCC decision to relax station ownership rules.

Image result for cartoons about sinclair broadcasting“Sinclair Broadcast Group fired back at critics of its plan to acquire Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion and become the nation’s largest broadcaster, saying the deal will create scale and efficiencies that will ensure the future of free, over-the-air television.”

“Hunt Valley-based Sinclair filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission opposing numerous requests for the government to deny the acquisition. Groups such Dish Network LLC, the American Cable Association, Free Press, Public Knowledge and Common Cause have filed such requests with the FCC.”

“Most opponents have complained the deal would fail to serve the public interest and violate the broadcast ownership cap, even with the UHF discount in place. Critics also echoed long-running criticism that Sinclair uses its news broadcasts to advocate conservative views.”

“The combination of the two companies would create a broadcasting behemoth with unprecedented control over both the national and local television markets — inflicting tremendous harm to competition and consumers,” the American Cable Association said in its petition to deny the deal. The cable group represents about 750 small and medium-sized cable operators, telephone companies, municipal utilities and other local providers of multi-channel video programming services.”

Image result for cartoons about sinclair broadcasting“Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, said the group, which promotes diverse and independent media ownership, is most concerned about the size and reach of the merged company.”

“That any one company would control 230 stations reaching almost three-quarters [of the U.S.] is too much media power in too few hands,” Aaron said. “We’re particularly concerned the Trump FCC has gamed the rules to benefit Sinclair.”

“The group sees that as even more problematic because “Sinclair doesn’t hide its political leanings and pushes conservative commentary on its affiliate stations,” Aaron said, referring to a practice of sending “must-run” right-leaning segments to affiliates, he said.”

“Those sentiments are repeated in many of hundreds of public comments filed with the FCC.”

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As per a 8/7/17 Baltimore Sun publication by Lorraine Mirabella, “Consumer watchdog group Allied Progress, which is opposing Sinclair Broadcast Group’s planned $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co., asked the Federal Communications Commission on Monday (8/7/17) to deny the deal.”

“In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit V. Pai, the group questions whether a deal that would create the single largest operator of local broadcast stations in the country serves the public interest. Hunt Valley-based Sinclair announced plans in May to acquire Tribune’s 42 local news stations, bringing its ownership count to 233 stations that could reach 72 percent of American households.”

“This level of ownership is unprecedented and would violate the national ownership cap,” Karl Frisch, the group’s executive director, said in the letter. “Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune Media would result in less competition, fewer local program options and higher costs for consumers.”

Image result for photo of sinclair broadcasting buildingThe Conservative Nature of Sinclair Broadcasting:

Wash. Post: Sinclair’s Stations Have Been “Used To Attack Democrats Or To Boost Republicans.” The Washington Post reported in 2014 that after Sinclair purchased Washington’s ABC affiliate WJLA-TV, the channel took “a subtle but noticeable turn to the right.” The Post added that Sinclair’s stations have been “used to attack Democratic candidates or to boost Republicans,” and on the eve of 2012 presidential elections, “Sinclair stations in several battlegrounds states aired a ­corporate-produced half-hour news ‘special’ that criticized” then-President Barack Obama and his policies.”

From the September 16, 2014, article:

“There’s a new owner and a new approach to the news at WJLA-TV, Washington’s ABC affiliate. Under the direction of its ambitious corporate parent, the station’s news operations have taken a subtle but noticeable turn to the right.”

“The station has also begun to carry pieces produced by Sinclair’s Washington bureau about national issues and federal programs. These stories have generally been critical of the Obama administration and tend to offer perspectives primarily from conservative think tanks”.

“In the past, Sinclair hasn’t shied from using its TV stations to deliver clear political messages. This has most clearly come in election seasons, with stations being used to attack Democratic candidates or to boost Republicans:

●On the eve of the 2012 election between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, for example, Sinclair stations in several battlegrounds states aired a ­corporate-produced half-hour news “special” that criticized Obama’s handling of the economy, his signature health-care law and the administration’s management of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Romney’s record received less scrutiny.

●In 2007, the Federal Communications Commission fined Sinclair $36,000 for broadcasting two public-affairs shows, “America’s Black Forum” and “Election Countdown” in 2004 on nine of its stations without disclosing that host Armstrong Williams had been paid by an affiliate of the Education Department to make favorable comments about the Bush administration’s “No Child Left Behind” policy. Sinclair said it had no knowledge of the arrangement, but the FCC said he programs violated rules against “payola punditry.” [The Washington Post9/16/14]

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Here’s the rest of the story…

On August 6, 2017, Margaret Harding McGill and John Hendel of Politico penned the following report, “How Trump’s FCC aided Sinclair’s expansion.” (Use of a regulatory loophole will allow Sinclair to reach 72 percent of U.S. households after buying Tribune’s stations.)

Excerpts:

“Sinclair Broadcast Group is expanding its conservative-leaning television empire into nearly three-quarters of American households — but its aggressive takeover of the airwaves wouldn’t have been possible without help from President Donald Trump’s chief at the Federal Communications Commission.”

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“Sinclair, already the nation’s largest TV broadcaster, plans to buy 42 stations from Tribune Media in cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, on top of the more than 170 stations it already owns. It got a critical assist this spring from Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who revived a decades-old regulatory loophole that will keep Sinclair from vastly exceeding federal limits on media ownership.The change will allow Sinclair — a company known for injecting “must run” conservative segments into its local programming — to reach 72 percent of U.S. households after buying Tribune’s stations. That’s nearly double the congressionally imposed nationwide audience cap of 39 percent.”

“The FCC and the company say the agency wasn’t giving Sinclair any special favors by reviving the loophole, known as the “UHF discount,” which has long been considered technologically obsolete. But the Tribune deal would not have been viable if not for Pai’s intervention: Sinclair already reaches an estimated 38 percent of U.S. households without the discount, leaving it almost no room for growth.”

“The loophole is a throwback to the days when the ultra-high-frequency TV spectrum — the part higher than Channel 13 — was filled with low-budget stations with often-scratchy reception over analog rabbit ears. That quality gap no longer exists in today’s world of digital television, but under the policy that Pai revived, the commission does not fully count those stations’ market size when tallying a broadcaster’s national reach.”

Related imageSinclair’s expanding empire

“Sinclair Broadcast Group owns stations in 81 markets, making it the nation’s largest TV broadcaster. The maps below show Sinclair’s footprint proportional to its total reach — which now covers an estimated 38 percent of U.S. households.Its $3.9 billion deal will give it stations in 19 new markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — and the ability to reach 72 percent of households.”

Critics including the FCC’s most recent former chairman, Tom Wheeler, say the change amounts to a regulatory sleight-of-hand.”Congress was explicit in black letter saying 39 percent viewership would be the maximum,” said Wheeler, a Democrat who got rid of the discount last year.” 

“The FCC and Sinclair say a wide array of broadcasters — not just Sinclair — pushed for the return of the UHF discount, and they say Pai has been consistent in arguing that the agency shouldn’t scrap the discount without first undertaking a broader review of media ownership limits.”

“Pai, whom Trump elevated to chairman early this year, told House Democrats at a July 25 hearing that the commission didn’t single out Sinclair for special treatment.”

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SINCLAIR NEWS STATION

“The Washington Post in December (2016) reported that Sinclair “gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump during the campaign” while airing negative stories on Hillary Clinton. That followed POLITICO’s reporting on a boast by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner that the president’s campaign had struck a deal with the broadcast group for better media coverage. In April, Sinclair hired former White House aide Boris Epshteyn, who had organized Trump’s TV surrogates, as an on-air political analyst.”

“The broadcaster cultivated its ties with the FCC’s Pai in the weeks after Trump’s election, when the Republican commissioner was viewed as a top contender to lead the agency. Pai addressed Sinclair’s Nov. 16 general manager summit in Baltimore, where he also met with the company’s then-CEO, David Smith, according to a copy of Pai’s calendar obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Pai held a second meeting with Smith and newly named Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley in Arlington, Virginia, on the day before Trump’s inauguration, the records show.”

Image result for PHOTOS OF AJIT PAI“On Pai’s first week on the job as chairman in late January, Sinclair urged the agency to reinstate the UHF discount, which allows ultra-high-frequency stations to count for only half their actual audience when calculating their national reach. Pai had dissented when the FCC’s then-Democratic majority abolished the discount in 2016, arguing that the commission should also review and adjust the national ownership cap.

“Once installed as head of the agency, Pai brought back the discount in a 2-1 party-line vote in April over the objections of Clyburn, who pointed out the irony that a chairman who has emphasized slashing outmoded regulations was reviving a “relic of a bygone era.” A little over two weeks after the FCC vote, Sinclair announced its acquisition of Tribune Media.”

“The FCC said multiple broadcasters, including CBS, NBC and Univision, supported the move, and said Pai was simply acting on his long-held position. “Had the Commission teed up both the UHF discount and the national cap in 2013 as he had requested, then this entire situation could have been avoided,” an FCC spokesperson said in a statement.”

Image result for PHOTOS OF AJIT PAI“The majority Commissioners’ positions that media ownership reform is needed has been widely known for many years,” Sinclair Senior Vice President of Strategy and Policy Rebecca Hanson said in a statement.”

“Pai, who is viewed as friendly to broadcasters, also moved quickly to advance TV stations’ ability to offer a new transmission standard for higher-quality, over-the-air video. That’s of particular interest to Sinclair, which has invested more than $30 million in the next-generation TV technology.”

“The FCC chairman has further proposed eliminating a rule that requires each TV station to have a main studio in or near the community it serves, arguing that modern technology allows community interaction without an in-person visit to a local studio. Critics charge that’s another handout to Sinclair, with Wheeler warning in a July blog post that “Sinclair — long known for requiring their stations to carry right-wing programs produced by headquarters — will have an open field to replace local voices with national control.”

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“With the regulatory path eased for its Tribune transaction, Sinclair is looking at relatively smooth sailing in GOP-dominated Washington. Ripley, the CEO, has expressed confidence the deal will receive regulatory approval from the FCC and the Justice Department, while acknowledging that the company might still have to drop some TV stations in select markets to fully adhere to ownership rules.”

“Recently (Sinclair) brought back a second, in-house lobbyist who previously lobbied for the broadcaster. One of the lobbyists, Hanson, has mostly focused on tamping down any Democratic opposition in Congress.”

SINCLAIR’S CURRENT MARKET

“In June, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) led seven Democratic colleagues in calling for hearings on the deal. Sinclair’s KOMO TV station in Seattle, in Cantwell’s home state, has become a focal point for local station resistance to demands from the corporate office, according to a New York Times story in May that described how KOMO journalists would rebel against “must-run” content by airing it at times of low viewership.”

“”Local television broadcasters have long served the public interest. The Sinclair-Tribune merger threatens to upend this responsibility by consolidating local news into a single voice that reaches into 70 percent of American homes,” Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, told POLITICO. “It’s no secret that Sinclair has used its large platform to push extremely conservative programming, while cutting deals with the Trump campaign to provide favorable coverage.”

SINCLAIR’S PLANNED FUTURE MARKET

“So far, there’s little indication Republican leadership in Congress intends to apply much scrutiny to the Tribune deal. Sinclair, which began as a family-owned TV station in Baltimore in the 1970s, has endeared itself to many Republicans with its conservative leanings — and has a long history of donating to GOP candidates over the years.”

“In the 2016 election cycle, Sinclair and its executives donated $300,000 to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company gave to the fundraising efforts of House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Its vice president, Frederick Smith, gave to the pro-Trump Great America PAC as well as to Montana Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte’s campaign a day after the lawmaker was charged with assaulting a journalist this year.”

John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” devoted (time) in a July show to mocking Sinclair’s “must run” segments and warning about the potential impact of the deal. “[I]n contrast to Fox News, a conservative outlet where you basically know what you’re getting, with Sinclair, they’re injecting Fox-worthy content into the mouths of your local news anchors.”

“Epshteyn blasted Oliver’s segment, and Sinclair tripled the number of weekly segments featuring the former Trump aide’s commentary. A Sinclair executive sent a memo to station news directors defending the must-runs against irresponsible media reports.”

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TOM WHEELER (GETTY IMAGES

“More opposition could emerge during the regulatory review process. Public interest group Public Knowledge, the American Cable Association and DISH Network urged the FCC to slow down the review process and make Sinclair release more information about how the deal will benefit the public. Conservative website Newsmax — a potential competitor to Sinclair in the right-wing news business — also told the FCC that the deal raises “serious competitive concerns” in a filing supporting the request for more time and information. The FCC denied the requests.”

“Thankfully, we’ve got Chairman Pai, who’s launched an action to look at these antiquated rules which we think has artificially tipped the playing field away from TV broadcast to the point of making us uncompetitive,” Ripley told attendees at a Media Institute luncheon in June.” 

This blog was updated on 8/23/17.

9 comments

  1. The takeover must be nearly complete. I can see shades of 1984 in the future for the US unless action is taken to remove the cancer at the head of the growth and the smaller but still virulent growths attached to it. Is there not enough cause for impeachment yet?
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Dear David Prosser,

      I’m convinced this story hasn’t been given the coverage, it deserves. The takeover is not a done deal yet. Without public or legal intervention, this takeover will most likely succeed.

      I am ready to donate moneys for a full page NY Times advertisement to encourage the FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller to speed up this investigation as our national security is at risk with DDT in the White House.

      Hugs, Groinda

  2. Wow that is sneaky, I’ve never even heard of Sinclair Broadcasting. But really, are ppl really that braindead, they can’t distinguish conservative propaganda from liberal? If one doesn’t like the content, just turn it off!

    • Dear 1EarthUnited,

      I am biased towards truth in advertising. When someone watches FOX TV or follows Breitbart and Infowars he/ she knows these outlets are conservative leaning, just as liberals might gravitate towards MSNBC TV and media outlets like Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Think Progress, etc.

      When one turns on the TV to watch local news, they want the reliability of straight up news/ facts. Sinclair alters this expectation.

      Hugs, Gronda

    • 1EarthUnited,
      Amusing that after the election of donnie tRump you would even ask that question! News media, much like blogs are not always honest about their true agenda, however despite their words it is often becomes obvious their true focus when one starts to look at the people they show as links and contacts. How often do you hear the phrase fair and balanced on actual news stations, versus right leaning stations? How many times does a lie or miss speak need to be repeated before it becomes a truth? 😉

      • Hi Crusty, excellent points you and Gronda have brought up. I totally agree that all forms of media, including social media and blogs have political bias, esp after this contentious election. Sadly too many consumers of “news” do not care to use any discernment or basic logic and just accept anything presented to them. After all, why would news broadcasters ever lie? LOL 😉

        While most reputable reporters cannot outright lie, they most certainly can skew the message to affect public perception. Like Gronda said, unless we diligently do our research, separate fact from rhetoric, and employ a modicum of critical thinking, most ppl just fall for whatever narrative is presented to them.

        I really appreciate that Gronda looks at both sides of the issue and come up with a rational conclusion to present to her readers. Unfortunately we cannot expect as much from MSM or the alternative news media.

  3. Dear Crustyolemothman,

    Someone like you who keeps up with politics and the news of the day will not be easily fooled if a local TV station pundit starts reflecting the more extreme right or left wing thinking. But many folks are not in this category and they are subject to being misled by “fake news” from either side of the spectrum.

    Hugs, Gronda

  4. In the eyes of the administration, this is the next best thing to state-run media. Our federal agencies are rapidly becoming a sham, such as FCC, EPA, HHS, Dept. of Justice, Dept. of Education, and the list goes on. We are following the path, though in a different manner, that Turkey has taken and by this time next year, if DDT is still in office, I will likely be saying that our entire system of democracy is a sham. Our best hope is that Mueller is successful, but even then, that leaves us with Pence, who is unlikely to reverse any of the Trumpian policies. Hugs!!!

  5. Gronda, Fox showed the way with misinformation. This is the inevitable step. John Oliver did an excellent piece on Sinclair a few months ago. The local stations must allow verbatim stories from corporate to sell specific messages. The sad part is people tend to trust their local folks, who are being told that they must report these stories. Keith

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