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Senators ask FCC to probe Sinclair 'news distortion operation'

Senators ask FCC to probe Sinclair 'news distortion operation'
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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 on Cheney drama: GOP is an 'anti-democratic cult' Briahna Joy Gray: Biden campaign promises will struggle if Republicans win back Congress Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers 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. 

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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 UdallTom UdallStudy: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling MORE (D-N.M.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPutting a price on privacy: Ending police data purchases Overnight Health Care: Biden sets goal of at least one shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4 | White House to shift how it distributes unallocated vaccines to states Pallone commits to using 'whatever vehicle I can' to pass Democrats' drug pricing bill 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.