Odd Bedfellows Call on FCC to Reject Sinclair's Deal for Tribune

(Bloomberg) -- Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s proposed purchase of Tribune Media Co. drew opposition from strange political bedfellows, as the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Parents Television Council separately asked regulators to reject the deal.

Each group told the Federal Communications Commission that Sinclair would be too large, to the detriment of local voices, if allowed to absorb Tribune’s 42 television stations. The FCC and Justice Department are weighing the $3.9 billion deal proposed in 2017, which would create a coast-to-coast media giant with more than 200 stations.

“The merger’s result will be more uniform content, controlled from a distant corporate office,” the ACLU said in a filing. “Sinclair has a well documented practice of forcing local broadcasters to read ideological scripts, take positions on partisan issues, and play pre-taped segments featuring talking points from White House surrogates.”

Sinclair has drawn criticism for having news anchors read scripted statements about “false news” by other media. Amid that furor, President Donald Trump derided several U.S. news outlets as “fakers” afraid of increased competition from Maryland-based Sinclair.

Diversity Wanted

Longstanding restrictions on media ownership have been relaxed by FCC Republicans, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee. Democrats say the moves were designed to help Sinclair and that regulation is needed to preserve a diverse media landscape. Republicans say change was overdue for the outmoded restrictions.

The Parents Television Council, founded by conservative commentator Brent Bozell, works to protect children from graphic broadcasts. It asked the FCC to reject the merger, saying that “when local broadcasters are owned by corporate behemoths that are based hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away, the inevitable result is that local, community standards aren’t just ignored, they are obliterated.”

Over a decade ago Bozell, who also founded the Media Research Center, which says on its website it works to expose “leftist” bias in the national news media, stood with groups including Common Cause and MoveOn.org to oppose loosening media ownership standards. “That concept was of vital importance then, and it is of even greater importance today,” Timothy Winter, president of Parents Television Council, said in a filing.

The FCC is taking comments on Sinclair’s deal through July 12.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.