Sinclair, opponents clash over public interest benefits of $3.9B Tribune deal


Sinclair Broadcast Group is continuing to answer to opponents who question the public interest benefits of its proposed $3.9 billion deal for Tribune Media.

In an FCC filing (PDF), Sinclair argues that the merger is in the best interest of the overall health of the broadcast TV industry and will better position it to compete with streaming services, MVPDs and cable programmers. Sinclair says that by combining with Tribune, it will have more scale to invest in “unique programming that addresses the news, information, and public safety needs of local communities.”

Sinclair says that petitions to deny the merger “rely on speculative assumptions and exaggerations that lack any basis in fact.” Sinclair also takes umbrage with the notion that its Tribune deal is not in keeping with FCC guidelines.

“Moreover, despite claims to the contrary, none of the petitioners provides a shred of evidence demonstrating that the post-merger company will violate any Commission rule. Instead, a number of petitioners ignore or blatantly mischaracterize the applicants’ repeated commitment to take actions as necessary to comply with the Commission’s rules,” wrote Sinclair.

RELATED: House Dems push FCC for answers about 'preferential treatment' of Sinclair

Sinclair’s defense of its adherence to the rules arrives amid a push from House Democrats to have the FCC answer questions about apparent “preferential treatment” of Sinclair.

In a recent letter (PDF), Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) urged FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to provide details about the reinstatement of the UHF discount, which allows broadcasters to count UHF stations as 50% toward the national audience reach cap, a rule that would allow Sinclair to buy Tribune’s 42 TV stations and still stay in accordance with the cap.

The letter also says the FCC set the pleading cycle for the Sinclair-Tribune deal at only 30 days.

“Even though the proposed transaction is between the two largest owners of broadcast stations, the FCC set a timeline for public comment that was shorter than the pleading cycles set for previous transactions,” the lawmakers wrote.

Despite the shorter pleading cycle, a number of petitions have been submitted asking the FCC to deny the merger. Sinclair argues that those arguments against its proposed transaction are not in the public interest.

“At bottom, each of the petitioners is either trying to use this proceeding to stifle competition for its own economic interests or is still living in a pre-cable, pre-internet, pre-smartphone world, untethered from the economic realities of the current media market. Sinclair and Tribune ask the Commission to see these transparent and/or naïve attempts for what they are, dismiss or deny the petitions in full, and grant consent to the proposed transaction,” Sinclair wrote.

Meanwhile, the Coalition to Save Local Media—a group including the American Cable Association, Common Cause, the Competitive Carriers Association and Dish Network—has blasted Sinclair’s response to the petitions.

“Sinclair-Tribune has failed to explain how this multi-billion-dollar merger is in the public interest. This merger continues to raise substantial legal and policy questions—including compliance with Federal Communications Commission rules—that remain unanswered by Sinclair-Tribune,” the group wrote, adding that the merger would give the combined companies massive reach that could be used to enforce higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.

“Sinclair-Tribune’s response today leaves too many questions unanswered about the public interest harms caused by the proposed merger. There is no basis for the FCC to allow this merger to proceed. The FCC and Department of Justice should reject this merger,” the group wrote.