Sinclair-Tribune Deal Looms Large in Local Media Markets

Combined Companies Would Reach Over 70 Percent of TV Viewers

Written by Charlotte Reinnoldt, Common Cause intern on August 14, 2017

In the current surge of news media consolidation and homogenization, the Sinclair-Tribune merger proposal may be the most alarming yet.

In May, Sinclair Broadcast Group announced a $3.9 billion deal to acquire Tribune Media, which would grant Sinclair control of more than 200 TV stations nationwide. Since then, the case has been under review by the Federal Communications Commission and has generated a tidal wave of opposition. In addition to Common Cause, Dish Network, the American Cable Association, and the conservative-leaning One America News network have filed formal objections to the merger.

If approved, the merger would would grant Sinclair intolerable market power, particularly over the local TV news and other programming that are major sources of information for millions of citizens. In addition, the deal would likely increase cable TV prices for consumers and make it difficult for independent media outlets to compete. Most troublingly, the merger directly threatens the diversity of sources and differing viewpoints fundamental to democracy.

Sinclair also has been under fire for requiring that its stations air ‘must-run’ segments, essentially mandating that its channels air content that is presented as “news” but reflects the management’s conservative views. Among those featured in these segments have been former Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn and former Sinclair executive Mark E. Hyman, both outspoken conservatives. If the merger is approved, this partisan skewing of news coverage, historically absent from local news channels, will become widespread.

Research on the merger has shown that it would have significant impacts on local TV markets nationwide. In the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, PA market, for example, acquiring Tribune  would give Sinclair control over four of the seven full-power local channels currently operating in the area. The pattern of media consolidation would be similar in other markets. Sinclair would operate four of the eight full-power stations in the St. Louis area, and three of the nine in the Norfolk area.

In total, the merger would extend Sinclair’s reach to over 70% of US households. While federal restrictions limit any broadcaster owner to coverage of no more than 39% of the national audience, a recent FCC ‘UHF discount’ loophole allows companies to count only half of the audience reached by UHF stations in that calculation. The commission policy gives Sinclair permission to extend its influence beyond the apparent limit.

With the credibility of the press increasingly under attack, it’s more important than ever for Americans to have access to diverse voices on the airwaves; opposition to dangerous media consolidations like the Sinclair-Tribine deal is vital.


Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Media and Democracy

Tags: Media Monopolization

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