Groups join petition to delay Sinclair-Tribune merger review

Groups join petition to delay Sinclair-Tribune merger review
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A growing number of groups are urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to delay its review of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s merger with Tribune Media, while a court weighs a recent agency move that would ease the deal's approval.

The organizations joining the effort include the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the conservative outlet Newsmax and the telecom trade group NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association.

The groups joined a petition first filed in June by Public Knowledge and Common Cause to the FCC. That petition asked the agency to hold off on the Sinclair-Tribune proceeding while the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reviews the FCC’s order allowing broadcasters to buy up more local television stations.

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Last year, the Republican-controlled FCC voted to reinstate what’s known as the UHF discount, which counts ultra-high frequency broadcast stations as half of other stations when determining if broadcasters are in line with media ownership limits. Broadcasters are currently capped at serving 39 percent of households.

Reinstating the discount was a huge boost for Sinclair’s merger, which would give the right-leaning media giant access to 72 percent of the country’s television audience.

“If the Commission’s reinstatement of the UHF discount is vacated by the D.C. Circuit, Sinclair would have to make significant divestitures — greater than four times the currently-proposed divestitures — to comply with ownership limit,” the groups wrote in a letter to the FCC dated July 9.

Critics say that the $3.9 billion deal would give the company too much power over the local news market.

The opposition that has formed against the deal has created an unlikely alliance consisting of left-wing consumer groups, right-wing media outlets and cable companies, all worried about media consolidation.

“Sinclair would use its newfound bargaining power in retransmission consent negotiations to force distributors as well as consumers to pay higher prices for its content,” the groups wrote in their letter. “A post-transaction Sinclair would also crowd out carriage opportunities for independent and diverse programming, and reduce broadcast localism diversity in local markets.”

The FCC is currently soliciting public comment on the proposed merger.