FCC opens docket on Sinclair merger with Tribune

FCC opens docket on Sinclair merger with Tribune
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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is opening up the docket on the Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media for the public to weigh in.

The FCC is currently reviewing the $3.9 billion deal between the two media companies to determine if it is in the “public interest.” Parties interested in making their case regarding the merger heard can, as of Thursday, make “ex parte” presentations to the FCC, which will be publicly disclosed on the agency’s website. The presentations can come in the form of oral or written arguments.

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Critics of the deal have argued it might harm the public by significantly consolidating the local news media market, where both Sinclair and Tribune have large holdings. In its public notice, the FCC said the merger would slightly exceed the 39 percent national audience reach limit.

The companies, however, have told the FCC that they “will take such actions to the extent required to comply with the terms of the Merger Agreement and the national television ownership limit (including the UHF Discount), in order to obtain FCC approval of the Transaction.”

Some skeptics are not convinced though. During a segment of his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, John Oliver said the deal would put Sinclair's local TV channels in 72 percent of American households.

On his show, Oliver hammered Sinclair, highlighting examples of the broadcaster's conservative bias.

“As far as we can tell, no other major owner of TV stations distributed its own commentary segments to run during local news,” Oliver said.

The FCC hasn’t given an explicit indication of how it will handle the merger yet, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has given Sinclair reason to be optimistic. He plans to raise the media ownership limit and has restored the UHF discount, which only counts 50 percent of a UHF station's audience reach toward a broadcaster’s 39 percent cap on ownership.

Late last month, Pai also approved of Sinclair’s acquisition of Bonten Media Group, further expanding the company’s station holdings.