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Sinclair Broadcasting is striking back against the flurry of criticism over its proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media.

In comments filed with the FCC late Tuesday in response to petitions to deny the deal, Sinclair argues the transaction will serve the public interest. Sinclair also claims the merger is necessary in a challenging media landscape with growing competition from streaming services and massive MVPDs.

“The natural synergies of bringing Sinclair and Tribune together will enable the combined company to invest in unique programming that addresses the news, information, and public safety needs of local communities – programming that will continue to be completely free for the tens of millions of households that do not or cannot subscribe to a paid multi-channel video service,” Sinclair’s attorneys write.

If the deal goes through, Sinclair would own more than 200 stations and the broadcast giant would reach 72 percent of U.S. households. Congress imposed a nationwide audience cap of 39 percent, but a regulatory loop hole known as the UHF discount was revived by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this spring, which would allow the Sinclair-Tribune merger to skirt the federal limits on ownership.

Sinclair contends none of the petitions “provides a shred of evidence” showing that the combined company would violate a Commission rule, as the company has previously acknowledged that it would divest assets as needed to stay in line with the FCC’s existing national and local ownership cap rules. 

Critics opposing the deal, including the American Cable Association (ACA), Dish, One American News Network, and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), have also raised concerns that it would stifle local and independent media voices and raise retransmission fees, increasing prices for consumers. More on that here.

Countering accusations that Sinclair forces local stations to run centrally produced programs and news segments, the broadcaster argues that its production of national news stories will free up resources at stations in Tribune markets so they can cover more local news.

Sinclair also asserts that all “must-run” news programming only accounts for about 2.5 percent of the total average news minutes per week, with the remaining news program time devoted to local news.

Opponents also raised concerns that conservative-leaning Sinclair presents biased news coverage, but Sinclair says it’s not the Commission’s job to regulate viewpoints.

“None of the petitioners have shown any evidence of news slanting by any Sinclair station, only that the commentators on some Sinclair stations (whose commentaries are clearly labeled as such) do not meet their taste,” Sinclair says.

“As the Commission and the petitioners are well aware, such arguments have no place in this or any FCC proceeding,” the broadcaster adds.

As for the increased retransmission consent fee allegations, Sinclair contends that critics’ arguments are “self-serving and unsupported.”         

“Each of the petitioners is either trying to use this proceeding to stifle competition for its own economic interests or is still living in a pre-cable, pre-internet, pre-smartphone world, untethered from the economic realities of the current media market,” Sinclair says in its filing.

Further, Sinclair contends broadcasters obtaining fair retransmission fees to support their programming and operations does not harm viewers.

T-Mobile was concerned that Sinclair could slow the post-incentive auction repack as it will be the largest owner of stations relocating. 

However, Sinclair dismisses accusations that it would use the transaction as leverage to delay the repack, saying it “has no interest in a process that takes any longer than necessary.”

 

 

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