Sinclair Plays ‘Big Brother’ to Local TV Stations

Media Giant Orders Local Anchors to Stick To Its Script

Common Cause and other public interest groups pushing the Federal Communications Commission to block Sinclair Broadcasting’s $3.9 billion bid to acquire Tribune Media are getting some unexpected help this morning from none other than… Sinclair Broadcasting.

At the direction of executives at Baltimore-based Sinclair, news anchors at dozens of stations owned and/or operated by the company have been delivering a stinging on-air rebuke to their competitors across the country. The attack closely tracks President Trump’s criticisms of national media outlets. The anchors were ordered to read it word-for-word from Sinclair’s script, validating claims by Sinclair critics that the company has little interest in independent and aggressive local reporting.

“Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune would further the company’s efforts to eliminate local news coverage and give it a massive national audience reach,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner now serving as special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “The FCC must block this merger and return to its roots of promoting broadcast localism where broadcasters produce independent and diverse content that meets the needs of the communities they serve.”

Sinclair ordered the anchors to stick to its script, which bemoaned “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media,” the anchors declared.  “More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.”

Already the nation’s largest owner/operator of local television outlets with 193 stations, Sinclair would have a presence in 72 percent of the nation’s TV households if the FCC approves its merger with Tribune. The combined companies would own or operate more than 200 stations.

Sinclair is proposing to sell off some stations to satisfy antitrust concerns. That group includes Chicago’s WGN, seen across the country as part of cable TV packages because it’s the flagship station of the Chicago Cubs. But The Washington Post reports that the sales agreements would allow Sinclair to continue to run the stations and retain an option to buy them back later.

Sinclair already is notorious in media circles for distributing editorials taped at its headquarters with must-run orders to company-owned stations.