Broadcaster to shutter local stations after FCC collusion crackdown

Broadcasting giant Sinclair is taking some of its local stations in Alabama and South Carolina off the air after this year’s Federal Communications Commission actions to keep broadcasters from sharing resources.

In a filing with the FCC on Thursday, Sinclair told the agency that it couldn’t find buyers for two stations in Birmingham, Ala., and one station in Charleston, N.C., after the FCC’s actions to curb resource sharing among broadcasters.

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Sinclair was supposed to sell those local broadcast stations as part of its nearly $1-billion deal to purchase stations from competitor Allbritton Communications.

Earlier this year, the FCC voted 3-2 to crack down on broadcast stations that share advertising sales resources.

Under FCC rules, a company can only own one of the top four broadcast stations in any market. 

The FCC voted in March to consider any two stations that share more than 15 percent of their advertising sales resources as being owned by the same company. 

The agency also said it would begin to look at deals between broadcasters to share other types of resources.

Critics of the broadcast industry hailed the move as a crackdown on collusion that operated outside the lines of federal regulation.

But broadcasters protested the vote, saying that the resource sharing arrangements helped small broadcasters remain competitive and pointing to the FCC’s allowance of these deals in the past.

In a joint statement, the commission’s two Republicans — who voted against the measure earlier this year — sympathized with the broadcast company and questioned the agency’s actions to restrict sharing among broadcasters. 

Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly pointed to an offer made by an African-American owned broadcaster to purchase the two stations that Sinclair is shuttering.

That offer was taken off the table after the FCC’s vote on these resource sharing deals, the two said.

“Instead of increasing the number of African-American-owned television stations, we are driving stations off the air,” resulting in “job losses, less service to South Carolinians and Alabamians, and less ownership diversity,” Pai and O’Rielly said in their statement.

“We do not see how such an outcome possibly serves the public interest, and we hope that the Commission will take action immediately to correct its misguided restrictions.”

Broadcaster critic Andrew Schwartzman — who oversees Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation and is the former head of public interest group the Media Access Project — questioned the claims of Sinclair and Commission Republicans.

"The fact that Sinclair went to the press at the same time as it went to the FCC strongly suggests that Sinclair is more motivated by politics and tax benefits than in trying to expand diversity," he said in a statement.

He questioned Sinclair's assertion that it is unable to find buyers for the station's it's shuttering.

"It is pretty easy to not sell a station if it is priced too high, or too many conditions are imposed," he said.

-- This story was updated at 5:55 p.m.

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