WASHINGTON — As opponents of Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media met an FCC deadline to file comments, one group is trying to make the case against the transaction directly to the employees of both companies.
Allied Progress, a progressive organization that has been running a campaign in opposition to the merger, on Tuesday said it was sending letters to Sinclair and Tribune employees, outlining “the facts behind criticisms leveled at Sinclair’s corporate leaders and the programming they require Sinclair stations like yours to run.”
The letter is from Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, who led communications for the media watchdog group Media Matters for America. It is in response to a memo that Scott Livingston, Sinclair Broadcast Group’s vice president of news, sent to employees last month, defending the company and calling out some coverage of its news operations as biased.
“We are proud to offer a range of perspectives, both conservative and liberal — to our consumers — on our Sinclair broadcast stations each day,” Livingston wrote.
In his letter and an accompanying memo to Sinclair employees, Frisch outlines instances where they see Sinclair programming and news coverage as tilted toward the right, such as a half-hour documentary that aired on the eve of the 2012 presidential election that was critical of President Barack Obama “while barely examining Republican candidate Mitt Romney.” Also cited was a Washington Post story from December that reported that stations were given “must run” stories during the campaign that favored Donald Trump and were critical of Hillary Clinton.
Frisch wrote that Allied Progress originally sent out emails to Sinclair employees last month in response to the Livingston letter, but cited a report on the local TV news blog FTVLive that “management may have deleted my email and accompanying memo from employee inboxes.”
Allied Progress also is sending an email to employees of Tribune, warning them that “it is important for you to know the truth about your potential new boss.”
“We respect the hard work of local news reporters, editors and producers, and have deep concerns about Sinclair’s corporate governance and the overtly partisan programming they require stations to run,” Frisch wrote.
In his memo to employees, Livingston wrote that “Sinclair stations produce and air an average of 37.5 hours of local news per week — per station. Sinclair ‘Must Run’ national content equals less than 1 hour per week, on average, in Sinclair newscasts. The majority of this ‘must run’ content is non-commentary, straight news, from our Capitol Hill Bureau, or from our D.C. station, which includes interviews with lawmakers and other government officials.”
He also wrote that commentary segments from Boris Epshteyn, who worked on the Trump campaign and briefly served in the White House, and commentator Mark Hyman “are clearly identified as commentary and constitutes a tiny percentage of the station’s weekly broadcast content.”
The FCC is in the midst of a review of the Sinclair-Tribune merger, weighing whether it is in the public interest. Monday was the first deadline for public comments on the transaction. A group of opponents, including the American Cable Association and DISH Network, held a press call on Monday to outline their criticisms.
Among the companies also opposed to the transaction is Newsmax, the conservative media outlet whose CEO, Chris Ruddy, is a friend of Trump’s. Newsmax warned of that the merger would create too large of a concentration of media, as the combined company would reach 72% of U.S. households.
Newsmax, in its opposition, also criticized the FCC’s regulatory move that has made the merger possible without Sinclair having to divest a massive amount of stations. Earlier this year, the FCC restored the so-called UHF discount, which has allowed major station groups to amass a greater number of outlets and still fall within the federal ownership cap. That stands at 39% of U.S. households.
But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that the agency will take up the issue of media ownership, including the UHF discount, later this year.
“As Newsmax and others have already noted, it defies logic for the FCC to review a merger predicated upon the UHF discount while the agency rulemaking on that issue is not fully determined,” Newsmax’s consultant, John B. Simpson, wrote in the company’s filing. “For a Commission that preaches regulatory certainty, the timing of the review of this transaction is not only incompressible, but gives the appearance of benefitting one broadcast network, Sinclair, to the detriment of long held precedent, legislative intent, competition, consumer cost, and a core principle of our democracy — a free and diverse press.”
Sinclair declined to comment. It is expected to respond with its own filing by the next deadline in the FCC review, Aug. 22.