Senator Dick Durbin, D–Ill., did not mince words in a new op-ed published by Crain’s Chicago Business, in which he emerged as an opponent of Sinclair’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media.
“The combination threatens to do permanent damage to the American tradition of local broadcasting and will take a wrecking ball to the pillars of objectivism and diversity in local broadcasting,” Durbin wrote.
Durbin has been critical of the FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai’s apparent support of Sinclair with rule changes that include the reinstatement of the UHF discount. But Durbin said his chief concern is that the deal, which would give Sinclair access to Tribune’s 42 television stations, would put Sinclair-owned stations in more than 70% of U.S. households and could potentially jeopardize the credibility of local broadcast journalism.
“Americans continue to have faith in their local broadcast stations, but the Sinclair-Tribune merger undermines competition and threatens local broadcasting as a trusted and diverse voice for its viewers in Chicago, Illinois and across the country. This is not the broadcast media Americans deserve,” Durbin wrote.
He urged the FCC to cease further changes to media ownership rules until an “honest review” of the proposed transaction takes place. On the same day, the Chicago Tribune—run by Tribune Media spinoff, Tronc—came out with its own call for the FCC to kill the deal.
“The FCC and the Justice Department’s antitrust department should realize how deeply unhappy and concerned the American public is about a booming Sinclair-Tribune franchise,” wrote columnist Robert Reed.
Despite the numerous calls from opponents to block the deal, Tribune Media shareholders last week voted overwhelmingly in favor of the acquisition.
With Tribune shareholders on board, Sinclair still needs an OK from the FCC and last week, the commission said it was pausing its review of the merger to allow more time for public comments.
That decision arrived as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel became another outspoken opponent of the deal.
“Before I returned to the commission, the agency inexplicably resurrected an outdated and scientifically inaccurate system for tallying station ownership, known as the UHF discount. It also reversed an effort to investigate joint sales agreements. Both steps helped speed the way for this transaction—which would combine two broadcasting giants: Tribune and Sinclair,” Rosenworcel said.
“I’m not alone in my concerns about the concentration that will result from this proposed transaction. I’m not alone in my fear that it will do harm to the time-tested principles of diversity, localism and competition. There is opposition across the political spectrum,” she added.