FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday announced that he has "serious concerns" about Sinclair Broadcast Group's plan to purchase Tribune Media Group — a deal worth some $3.9 billion.
The money's not the problem — one company having too much control over too many TV stations is. And while Sinclair would have been made to divest (that is, sell off) some stations, Pai — and others — is now concerned that Sinclair would actually still "control those stations in practice, even if not in name."
The announcement is somewhat surprising given the chairman's backing of the deal in the first place, in addition to he and Sinclair both being staunch if not overly stealthy supporters of all things politically on the right. Sinclair purchasing Tribune would put it and its local news broadcasts — including its "must-run" political commentary — in even more homes.
Here's Pai's full statement:
"Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction. The evidence we've received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law. When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues. For these reasons, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would designate issues involving certain proposed divestitures for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge."
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel — no fan of the deal herself — issued her own statement.
"Today's announcement is welcome. As I have noted before, too many of this agency's media policies have been custom built to support the business plans of Sinclair Broadcasting. With this hearing designation order, the agency will finally take a hard look at its proposed merger with Tribune. This is overdue and favoritism like this needs to end.
I have voted to approve."
The issue of divestiture now will go before an administrative law judge for review.
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