LAS VEGAS—Near the tail end of a speech about the “fake news” criticisms of the press at the 2018 NAB Show, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel turned her attention to the pending Sinclair-Tribune merger.
Rosenworcel specifically mentioned President Donald Trump threatening to take away NBC’s broadcast license in 2016 and called out her colleagues for not standing up fast enough against what she called an “assault on the First Amendment.” She said that recent rule changes at the FCC represent another time in which the “specter of fake news” intersected with her agency.
Rosenworcel talked about the FCC’s recent moves to bring back the “scientifically obsolete” UHF discount and ending the rule that requires the ability to broadcast from the city where a station is licensed.
“Some of these policies are in need of updating—and there’s an honest conversation to be had about that. But collectively, they have the distinction of clearing the way for a transaction right now pending before the FCC. It’s a merger that could result in a single broadcast company—Sinclair—having the unprecedented ability to reach 72% of our nation’s households,” Rosenworcel said. “This is a company that is not only getting special treatment from the FCC—it’s getting a special call-out from the Executive Branch. This is important for all the reasons I’ve discussed today. So stay tuned.”
Since last year, Rosenworcel has been a vocal opponent of Sinclair’s $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media, which would give Sinclair a portfolio of more than 200 television stations.
In addition to criticism from Rosenworcel, the FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai have also received pushback from special interest groups and investigators about how the FCC rules changes allegedly favor Sinclair.
Earlier this year, Free Press, Common Cause, Communications Workers of America and the United Church of Christ sued the FCC over rule changes they said disproportionately favor broadcasters, in particular Sinclair.
“The Pai FCC is a gift to the broadcast industry, as the commission bends over backwards to give favors to massive media conglomerates like Sinclair. What’s more, the FCC is attempting to ram through this deregulation without doing its homework. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has directed the agency—three times—to examine how its media ownership rule changes impact broadcast ownership diversity. Shamefully, and in direct violation of the court’s orders, no proper evaluation has occurred,” said Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González in a statement.
Currently, an internal investigation is underway at the FCC to determine whether Pai improperly favored Sinclair Broadcasting with recent rule changes that allow broadcasters to own more TV stations.