By Bill Knight
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on Nov. 2 announced her office’s opposition to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed buyout of Tribune Media Company.
(See Community Word coverage of the proposed buyout in the November issue, http://thecommunityword.com/online/blog/2017/11/01/8335/ )
Madigan and attorneys general from Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island together filed a comment with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against the buyout:
“As the chief consumer protection and law enforcement officers in our respective states, we are responsible for promoting and defending the public interest. The proposed consolidation fails to further the public interest by allowing for increased consolidation that will decrease consumer choices and voices in the marketplace.”
Based in Hunt Valley, Md., Sinclair already has 589 channels in 89 U.S. markets, according to its web site.
If approved by the FCC, the resulting company would become the largest TV broadcasting company in the nation, reaching 72 percent of U.S. households, which surpasses the FCC’s 39-percent limit on national audience reach.
Sinclair’s holdings include Peoria’s WHOI (which it’s licensed and owned since 2013, although it’s now contractually operated by Quincy Media, owner of WEEK), according to the corporation’s 2016 annual report. In Illinois, Sinclair also owns WICS in Champaign, WICD in Decatur, and KHQA in Quincy.
Tribune Media initially agreed to the $3.9 million takeover in May, despite criticism that Sinclair has turned local programming into right-wing propaganda by requiring stations to air conservative commentaries and prime-time features such as the discredited anti-John Kerry film “Stolen Honor,” broadcast before the 2004 election.
“To ensure people have access to a diverse landscape of perspectives, services and stations, the FCC should reject the proposed Tribune-Sinclair media merger,” Madigan said. “People throughout Illinois depend on their local broadcast stations for diverse viewpoints and this merger threatens that long-held practice.”
Also, Madigan and the other attorneys general say that Sinclair’s request inappropriately uses an outdated method known as the UHF Discount Rule for calculating national audience reach that doesn’t reflect today’s technology, understating the audience reach of a UHF station by 50 percent.
“The Commission should conclude that the proposed merger does not serve ‘the public interest, convenience, and necessity’ as required under the Communications Act of 1934,” the legal comment states.
Madigan urged the FCC to at least delay consideration of the merger until the D.C. Circuit Court completes its rule of the UHF Discount.