FCC Signs Off On Sinclair’s Purchase of Allbritton Stations

The FCC gave the greenlight to Sinclair Television Group’s $985 million purchase of Allbritton Communications stations, after Sinclair agreed last month to divest one of the seven Allbritton outlets in order to get the deal through federal scrutiny.

The FCC’s Media Bureau announced on Thursday that it had approved the transaction, with Sinclair planning to sell the Harrisburg, Pa., Allbritton station to Media General to comply with media ownership rules. Sinclair also will give up licenses for Allbritton stations in Birmingham, Ala., and Charleston, S.C., and put that programming on the digital signals of outlets it already owns in those markets.

After Sinclair announced that it was buying the Allbritton stations last year, the FCC has placed new scrutiny on so-called “sidecar” deals as well as sharing arrangements. Critics say such arrangements have allowed companies gain control or influence over other stations in markets where they already own an outlet. Sinclair has abandoned such arrangements as part of the transaction.

The Department of Justice announced its approval of the deal earlier this month, on the condition that Sinclair shed the Harrisburg station.

“The order released today approving the transaction between Sinclair and Allbritton exemplifies the careful scrutiny the Bureau will provide to broadcast transactions that propose new combinations of sharing arrangements and financial entanglements between a dominant licensee and a so-called sidecar entity,” William Lake, chief of the FCC’s Media Bureau, said in a statement. “The Media Bureau has demonstrated clearly that it will not allow such combined arrangements to undermine the local TV ownership rule, which is in place to ensure competition and diverse voices on the airwaves.”

In addition to stations in Tulsa, Okla., Lynchburg, Va., and Little Rock, Ark., Sinclair will gain ownership of Allbritton’s flagship station in Arlington, Va., WJLA-TV, the ABC affiliate in the Washington market. The deal also includes Newschannel 8, a 24-hour local cable news network in D.C.

Allbritton is selling its stations to focus on its digital properties, including Politico.

“Very mixed emotions: FCC approved sale of our TV stations to Sinclair. Thanks to all at ACC for 40 wonderful years. I will miss you deeply,” Allbritton CEO Robert Allbritton wrote on Twitter.

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