Senators ask FCC to probe Sinclair 'news distortion operation'

Senators ask FCC to probe Sinclair 'news distortion operation'
© Getty

A dozen senators wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday to urge the agency to investigate Sinclair Broadcast Group and pause its proposed merger with Tribune media.

The senators — 11 Democrats and Independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders 'outraged' after MLB threatens to cut ties with minor league teams Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute MORE (Vt.) — accused Sinclair in the letter of “deliberately distorting news,” thus violating FCC policy.

“We are concerned that Sinclair is engaged in a systematic news distortion operation that seeks to undermine freedom of the press and the robust localism and diversity of viewpoint that is the foundation of our national broadcasting laws,” the senators wrote. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The senators suggested the FCC should review Sinclair’s fitness to hold a broadcast license, and allow for further public comment on its proposed merger with Tribune Media. 

“In light of my commitment to protecting the First Amendment and freedom of the press, I must respectfully decline,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded to the letter on Thursday, according to Breitbart. “Most relevant here, I have repeatedly made clear that the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”

If the merger went through, Sinclair would own local news stations that reach nearly three-quarters of American households. 

Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallSenate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections MORE (D-N.M.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday Senators zero in on shadowy court at center of IG report Trump administration approves Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina MORE (D-Ore.) are among those who signed the letter.

The letter comes after a clip went viral of dozens of Sinclair anchors across the country simultaneously reading a scripted segment warning viewers of “fake news” and media bias that poses an "extremely dangerous" threat to democracy.

Critics and former employees have slammed the segment, saying it disparages media. Some Democratic representatives have also criticized Sinclair.

Sinclair executives have defended the promo, saying it shows no bias and was part of a well-researched journalistic initiative.

“I understand that you disliked or disagreed with the content of particular broadcasts, but I can hardly think of an action more chilling of free speech than the federal government investigating a broadcast station because of disagreement with its news coverage or promotion of that coverage,” Pai wrote in response to the senators.

-Updated 3:03 p.m.