ACLU speaks for small cable operators in attack on Sinclair-Tribune merger

Sinclair
Attacking the mega-station group merger from many sides in comments filed to the FCC, the ACLU said the deal will give Sinclair too much power in broadcast retransmission licensing negotiations. (Sinclair)

Smaller cable operators have found an unlikely ally in their attempt to stop Sinclair Broadcasting’s $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media: the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Attacking the mega-station group merger from many sides in comments filed to the FCC, the ACLU said the deal will give Sinclair too much power in broadcast retransmission licensing negotiations. 

“With such consolidated ownership, Sinclair will step up its ‘take it or leave it’ retransmission offers to small cable stations, which will result in higher prices passed on to consumers and a crowding out of stations that do not or cannot afford to submit to strong-arm negotiating tactics,” ACLU said. 

“Consumers of these small cable stations will also be more likely to experience blackouts,” the group added. “This process will disproportionately harm rural consumers, many of whom rely exclusively on small cable stations for their television broadcasting. Moreover, with a focus on large metropolitan markets as opportunities for growth, Sinclair has offered no plans to expand local news coverage. Fewer small, independent broadcasters means fewer voices with a dedicated connection to covering local community issues.”

The ACLU also said that Sinclair might be inclined to support a political agenda in local broadcast news.

“While such political content may be common on national cable news stations, such as Fox News and MSNBC, local news stations typically avoid opinion punditry on divisive, national politics and emphasize local current events, building community trust in their reporting,” the group said.

Meanwhile, the organization that represents smaller cable operators, the American Cable Association, reiterated its own opposition to the deal today.

"ACA remains deeply concerned that the Sinclair-Tribune TV station transaction, including the terms of attendant divestitures to Fox and other TV station owners, is contrary to the public interest and should be denied,” said ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka in a statement. 

“First, Sinclair-Tribune have not even attempted to show that their proposed divestitures serve the public interest,” Polka added. “Second, to the extent the FCC permits divestitures of Tribune Stations, to occur 'immediately after closing,' it should require Sinclair and any purchasers to agree that Sinclair does not 'acquire' or 'obtain control of' the Tribune stations to be divested. What's this about? It is a necessary clarification because Sinclair's retransmission consent agreements with ACA members contain 'after-acquired-station clauses,' which automatically raise retransmission consent fees for any station that Sinclair acquires. Without such a clarification, the purchasers of former Tribune stations divested by Sinclair might attempt to raise prices under these after-acquired-station clauses, thereby undermining the purposes of the divestiture."

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