UPDATED with Thursday’s vote by Tribune Media shareholders approving the merger
WASHINGTON — The FCC is pausing its review of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed merger with Tribune Media to allow more time for the filing of public comments.
The FCC is more than halfway through its 180-day timeline for review of the merger, which would create a broadcasting giant with 223 TV stations serving 108 markets, including 39 of the top 50, and to cover about 72% of U.S. households.
In a statement, the FCC’s Media Bureau said they are pausing the review for 15 days until Nov. 2. Last month, the FCC requested more information from Sinclair on how the transaction will be in the public interest, as well as other concerns, and the company responded earlier this month.
“The Commission has a strong interest in ensuring a full and complete record upon which to base its decision in this proceeding,” the Media Bureau said in a statement. “Pausing the clock will ensure that commenters have additional time to review and comment on this new information.”
On Thursday, Tribune Media shareholders voted overwhelmingly to approve the deal. “Today’s vote is an important milestone in the merger process and confirms that Tribune stockholders strongly support this transaction and the value it delivers,” said Tribune CEO Peter Kern.
Public interest groups lobbying against the deal had been urging the FCC to open a new period for public comments.
“While we are encouraged with the FCC’s decision to finally stop the clock on the merger, it’s unclear why they waited 104 days to ask questions that consumer advocates, conservative groups, and industry competitors have been asking since day one,” said Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a group that has been urging the FCC to reject the transaction.
A Sinclair spokesperson said they “think the announcement speaks for itself, that the FCC is seeking to compile a complete record and is offering commenters two extra weeks to review and comment on our October 5th response to the Information Request.”
It is not altogether uncommon for the FCC to pause its review, either to collect new information or to settle legal disputes.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has defended the agency’s review of the merger. He has faced criticism that he relaxed a media ownership provision that will allow Sinclair to acquire such a large number of stations.