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Radio News: Judges question if Sinclair-Tribune merger is allowed

Apr 22, 2018 10:50 pm
Variety reports that on April 20 in Washington D.C., it was not looking good for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, in their efforts to merge with Tribune Media. There, a three-judge panel on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals questioned Sinclair's lawyers on the UHF discount, an old rule revived by the FCC, seemingly, just so this merger can get done. Sinclair already owns more local stations then any other company in the U.S., and has been criticized for putting a conservative slant on the local news coverage of its affiliates. Sinclair wants a $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media, which would give the station group market coverage of 72 percent of the country. Current rules would not allow such a concentration of control over U.S. airwaves, but reviving the UHF discount, would only count some stations in the deal, those nominally on UHF channels, as half-stations. The old rule compensated for the lack of transmission power UHF stations had against VHF stations. Now, though, the signals are all digital and often relayed through cables, satellites, and the internet, so there is virtually no difference between VHF and UHF stations today. Judge Gregory Katsas said at this hearing that there was, “no reason for thinking at that the end of the day, part of the solution will be keeping the discount.” Competitor Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, said in a statement that, “the judges on the DC Circuit reviewing the FCC’s UHF discount were left scratching their heads wondering why the rule was re-instated when everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike — agree that the discount is an analog relic and makes no sense in a digital world.... The FCC should avoid the appearance of impropriety and proceed with a transparent national ownership cap proceeding to set a level playing field before approving any merger that benefits just one company, namely Sinclair.”
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