Administrative Judge Dismisses Hearing Over Sinclair’s Conduct During Tribune Merger Review

WASHINGTON — Sinclair Broadcast Group will not face a hearing on whether it engaged in misrepresentation or lack of candor as it presented its Tribune Media merger plans to the FCC.

While Administrative Law Judge Jane Halprin wrote on Tuesday that she was dismissing the hearing, she said some of the issues raised over the company’s conduct were serious enough to warrant consideration in some other proceedings, such as Sinclair’s attempts to renew existing broadcast licenses.

The Tribune transaction, which would have created a broadcast giant with more than 200 stations, was abandoned in August after the commission referred its review to an administrative law judge. The commissioners questioned whether Sinclair’s plans to sell some stations were in fact “sham” transactions, and a way to get around compliance with media ownership rules.

Sinclair denied that it misrepresented the transaction to the FCC, and sought to have the administrative hearing dismissed. But Halprin’s predecessor, Richard Sippel, never acted on the case before retiring late last year.

In her decision to dismiss the case, Halprin wrote that a hearing “would not be a prudent use of Commission time and resources.”

She wrote, “Certainly, the behavior of a multiple station owner before the Commission ‘may be so fundamental to a licensee’s operation that it is relevant to its qualifications to hold any station license.’ That broad inquiry, however, would be more appropriately considered in the context of a future proceeding in which Sinclair is seeking Commission approval, for example, involving an application for a license assignment, transfer, or renewal.”

She did write that the allegations against Sinclair were “extremely serious charges that reasonably warrant a thorough examination.” She wrote that providing false statements to the FCC “has been a basis for license revocation since the inception of the Communications Act in 1934.”

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill had urged the administrative judge to go forward with the hearing, and former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote that such an event would “assure that due process is afforded everyone.”

Free Press, a public interest group, is calling on the FCC to start early renewal proceedings to examine the claims against Sinclair. According to FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, Sinclair next faces the renewal of licenses in 2020.

“Some want us to act sooner. This is a serious issue. We need answers,” Starks, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the other Democrat on the commission, said, “honesty with the FCC is a foundational requirement for a license.  In light of our earlier unanimous finding that there were issues of lack of candor and misrepresentation with this licensee, the FCC should not turn a blind eye—we should open an investigation.”

A Sinclair spokeswoman did not immediately return a request for comment.

When the Sinclair-Tribune merger was first proposed, it quickly drew scrutiny from Democrats on Capitol Hill, in part because Sinclair’s executive chairman, David Smith, has ties to President Trump.

Trump expressed his dismay at the FCC’s action last summer. He wrote on July 24 that it was “sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune. This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!”

When FCC Chairman Ajit Pai visited the White House in November, Trump noted that he didn’t “like one decision he made, but that’s alright.” He then noted how the chairman was “independent.”

Popular on Variety

More Politics

  • Donald Trump Hollywood Racism

    White House Says Trump 'Strongly Condemns' Violent Anti-Media Video

    President Donald Trump hasn’t yet watched a violent parody video in which he’s depicted killing figures representing media outlets and his political rivals, but the White House says he “strongly condemns” it. “Re: the video played over the weekend: The @POTUS @realDonaldTrump has not yet seen the video, he will see it shortly, but based [...]

  • Presidential Race Cable News Donald Trump

    CNN Calls on Trump to Denounce Video Showing Violence Against Media

    CNN has called on President Trump to denounce a video that was shown at a pro-Trump conference last week, in which the president is depicted slaughtering figures representing media outlets. The New York Times reported that the video was shown at a conference for Trump supporters held at Trump’s golf resort in Doral, Fla. According [...]

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Trump-Twitch-channel

    Donald Trump Is Now on Amazon's Twitch Streaming Service

    Donald Trump has joined Twitch, the game-focused live-streaming service, apparently in an effort to widen his unfiltered 2020 reelection messaging as the embattled U.S. president faces a fast-moving impeachment inquiry. Trump’s first Twitch broadcast was from his campaign rally Thursday in Minneapolis, where among other targets he lashed out at Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Somali [...]

  • Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg,

    MSNBC, Washington Post to Co-Host Democratic Presidential Debate in November

    MSNBC and The Washington Post are teaming up to co-host one of the Democratic Presidential debates. The debate will take place in Georgia on Nov. 20, airing on MSNBC and streaming on MSNBC.com and the Washington Post’s website. As it stands, eight candidates are set to qualify for the showdown, according to an NBC News [...]

  • Supporters of LGBTQ rights hold placards

    Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on LGBTQ Discrimination

    The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on three cases that will decide whether employers can discriminate based on sexual orientation and transgender status. The plaintiffs argue that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars sex discrimination, should be read to forbid discrimination against gay and transgender employees. According to reports from the courtroom, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content