Tribune dumping Sinclair is a win for TV news viewers

  • Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s headquarters in Hunt Valley, Md. ap file photo

Published: 8/12/2018 3:51:57 PM

Ding-dong, the wicked deal is dead. Tribune Media Co. has pulled out of its $3.9 billion merger with Sinclair Broadcast Group and instead plans to sue the media company for breach of contract.

The breakup is a win for television news consumers who rely on free and independent reporting — especially here in St. Louis because of the huge impact this deal would have had on local viewership. Sinclair is America’s largest owner of local television stations, with more than 190 stations in 89 U.S. markets, including KDNL (Channel 30) in St. Louis.

The proposed acquisition would have extended Sinclair’s reach to 72 percent of U.S. households, potentially adding the two local Tribune-owned stations — KTVI (Channel 2) and KPLR (Channel 11) — to the deal. Sinclair had agreed to divest stations in St. Louis and other markets to avoid one company from heavily controlling the airwaves, but the proposed divestiture was too problematic for federal regulators.

A Tribune statement accuses Sinclair of balking at the sale of stations in required markets and proposing shady divestment structures and sales that might not have entailed giving up full control. For viewers, it could have meant more of the same propaganda-style news delivery that had earned Sinclair national derision.

The Federal Communications Commission had blocked the merger and asked an administrative law judge to determine whether Sinclair misled the FCC or acted with a lack of candor.

Lack of candor is Sinclair’s middle name. It carefully scripted a commentary for all of its news presenters to read supporting the “fake news” assertions made by President Donald Trump against mainstream news media outlets. Local Sinclair stations have received orders to air “must-run” commentary segments echoing conservative and Trump administration talking points.

Media critic Jay Rosen tweeted that Tribune is essentially accusing Sinclair of being a “greedy, manipulative, lying, cheating company so brazen in its tactics that it couldn’t get this deal through the most accommodating FCC in history with a President hungry for it to happen.”

It should not have come as a surprise to Tribune that a media company willing to manipulate the news would try to pull similar maneuvers in its financial dealings. Tribune has said it will seek compensation for all losses from the failed merger, an amount it estimates at more than $1 billion.

The deal would have created a conservative television rival to Fox News, which may now see an opening to increase its local television holdings.

In an age of rampant misinformation, including manipulation by Russia designed specifically to divide Americans and undermine our democracy, viewers must be able to trust the credibility of their local newscasts. This merger would have strayed far outside the bounds of public interest. St. Louis viewers and Tribune-owned stations have dodged an Orwellian overlord.

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