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Dems to FCC: Force Sinclair to sell stations for merger approval

Dems to FCC: Force Sinclair to sell stations for merger approval
© Greg Nash

Top House Democrats want the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to force Sinclair Broadcasting Group to sell off some television stations if the agency approves its proposed merger with Tribune Media.

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House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiElection Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Pelosi calls Trump’s desire for border wall a ‘manhood issue’ MORE (D-Calif.), Energy and Commerce ranking member Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneDems eye ambitious agenda if House flips Hillicon Valley: Facebook rift over exec's support for Kavanaugh | Dem worried about Russian trolls jumping into Kavanaugh debate | China pushes back on Pence House Democrat questions big tech on possible foreign influence in Kavanaugh debate MORE (D-N.J.) and Rep. Mike DoyleMichael (Mike) F. DoyleTwitter chief faces GOP anger over bias at hearing Live coverage: Social media execs face grilling on Capitol Hill House Dems press FCC chairman for answers on false cyberattack claim MORE (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on a communications and technology subcommittee, wrote to the agency's commissioners on Monday to voice their concerns about the merger.

Sinclair is already the nation's largest owner of television stations in the country. The $4 billion deal with Tribune media would give the combined company access to 72 percent of the American television audience.

The Democrats pointed out that currently, no single broadcaster is allowed to have a reach of over 39 percent of the U.S. population. Those media ownership rules were created to ensure a diversity of viewpoints among local media stations across the country.

But Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai moved in April to reinstate an exemption called the “UHF discount.” Created in 1985, it allows broadcasters to count only half of their broadcast reach towards the 39 percent cap. It was created to address gaps between VHF and much lower quality UHF signals, which no longer exist now that signals are all broadcast across digital frequencies.

Even with the discount, though, Sinclair’s holdings would still surpass the cap, hitting 45 percent of U.S. audiences.

Democrats say if the merger is approved, Sinclair should be forced to divest its holdings over two years until it hits the broadcaster audience cap.

“Congress did not intend to allow a company to circumvent the cap using outdated rules such as the UHF discount,” the Democrats' letter says. They also note that one current Republican FCC Commissioner, Mike O’Rielly, recently agreed with their interpretation of the law.

Pai’s office declined to comment on the letter.

Liberals have voiced concern over the merger, which they say will give Sinclair unprecedented local broadcast reach.

Sinclair is known for its right-of-center slant and requires stations across the U.S. to run segments that often include conservative video op-eds.