Today, the Federal Communications Commission issued a Hearing Designation Order referring the Sinclair-Tribune merger before an Administrative Law Judge. The Order specifically questions whether Sinclair was the real party of interest in sales of stations to Chicago, Dallas, and Houston. These divestitures among others in Sinclair’s transaction contain sidecar agreements that would allow Sinclair to maintain some form of control over stations it was claiming to divest. The FCC questions whether Sinclair engaged in misrepresentation and a lack of candor in its applications with the Commission.
The following can be attributed to Michael Copps, Common Cause Special Advisor and Former FCC Commissioner:
“Sinclair has a history of entering into sidecar agreements that allow it to retain control over stations beyond the FCC’s ownership limits. This is not only evident in Sinclair’s current transaction but also in transactions from prior years. Now the FCC questions whether Sinclair misrepresented its transaction and misled the agency – serious allegations for any broadcast licensee. The best outcome of the FCC’s vote for an administrative hearing is for Sinclair to pull the deal. Otherwise its reputation can only sink further.
“If Sinclair does not withdraw, don’t expect an Administrative Law Judge to act quickly. Even if the judge issues a schedule, an administrative hearing is a long and drawn out process where Sinclair has the burden to prove it did not deceive the FCC.
“As we’ve stated time and again and the public outcry has demonstrated, Sinclair’s merger is clearly not in the public interest. Sinclair’s merger would give the company an unprecedented amount of control of our local media at a time when we need more independent and diverse voices. While the hearing designation of Sinclair’s merger is a positive step, we should also pay attention to other merger proposals so the FCC doesn’t green-light them while it thinks no one is looking.”