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Sinclair Deal Threatens to Put Right-Wing Slant on Election News

William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

The conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group may be positioning itself as the new leader of right-wing media through its proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. The deal would give Sinclair control over yet another local TV station, in Des Moines, Iowa, (it already owns two of that city’s four top stations)—one of the most important media markets for the 2020 presidential primary—and make it the nation’s largest broadcast group.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, told Axios, “Americans rely on local news to understand everything from communities to campaigns and when one company alone can reach 72% of our households, they have extraordinary power to influence what we see, hear, and learn. The unprecedented size of this proposed merger should have us all concerned.”

Axios continues:

Local news is still the most popular way for people in America to get their news — something merger opponents fear could be exploited if a conservative-leaning broadcaster reaches 70%+ of American households. Furthermore, local news is the only medium that is more heavily consumed by less educated, less wealthy Americans, according to Pew [Research].

Indeed, a report from Pew Research estimates that about 23 million Americans watch the local evening news, and 12 million watch the early morning local news. The top cable networks—CNN, MSNBC and Fox News—get only about 3 million prime-time viewers daily, making local news programs some of the most-watched shows in the nation.

Vox explains the significance of this data during an election cycle:

People who tune into Sinclair stations for local news often end up getting some conservative commentary in the mix as well. The broadcaster has a history of airing right-leaning segments critical of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. According to Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the Trump campaign struck deal with Sinclair to air exclusive interviews with Trump during the election. …

With Fox News, the traditional leader in conservative TV, in turmoil, Sinclair’s executives have an opportunity. If the merger goes through, it would have a huge patchwork of local television stations and a national reach rivaling cable news — a springboard, if it wanted, to become the next big thing in conservative broadcasting.

Sinclair first announced its intention to buy Tribune and its 42 television stations in May 2017. Until November, the deal would have been against FCC regulations because Sinclair would have owned two of the top four stations in Des Moines, but a change in FCC rules approved in November will allow the FCC to waive that prohibition on a case-by-case basis. Salon predicted in November that “the FCC seal of approval for this deal is pretty much a sure thing thanks to its current Republican majority.”

In December 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department had indicated to Sinclair and Tribune that it would approve the proposal but that Sinclair would have to sell about a dozen stations in so-called overlapping markets.

Common Dreams reports:

Although the sources declined to reveal the list of markets where stations would need to be sold, they said “it generally mirrors a list of overlapping markets Sinclair flagged in papers to the Federal Communications Commission,” which includes “areas where Sinclair and Tribune each have stations that are in the top four locally, such as St. Louis and Salt Lake City. …”

Gene Kimmelman, president of Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that opposes the merger, told the Journal that if the FCC approves a Sinclair merger that enables the broadcaster to reach more than 39 percent of households “it violates an explicit limit set by Congress, and public interest groups will challenge the legality of the deal.”

Salon predicted that those living in midsize cities in battleground states are “more likely than ever to see pro-Trump propaganda” on their local news “by next election season.”

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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