Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Sinclair sign

A sign for the Sinclair Broadcast Group building is seen in a buisness district in Hunt Valley, Maryland. (Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Sinclair's Sneaky Moves to Skirt Rules and Get Tribune Merger Approved

The right-wing television giant has proposed shady sales of a handful of stations to win federal regulatory approval for the $3.9 billion deal

Jessica Corbett

Right-wing television giant Sinclair Broadcast Group is attempting to skirt ownership rules and gain approval from federal regulators for a $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media by proposing sales—such as Chicago's WGN-TV to a Maryland-based car dealer—that would involve Sinclair still providing all services and effectively retaining control of the stations.

Despite Sinclair's reportedly cozy relationship with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai, the company has run into roadblocks with federal regulations in its mission to acquire Tribune Media's 42 stations. Sinclair announced last week that it would sell WGN-TV in Chicago as well stations in New York and nine other markets to appease regulators.

However, as the Chicago Tribune and consumer advocates are warning, proposed sales of stations in both Chicago and New York are actually sneaky bids for Sinclair to keep control of the stations through "an option and master services agreement" in each contract.

As the Tribune outlines, the $60 million sale in Chicago—to "a newly formed company headed by Steven Fader, a longtime business associate of Sinclair Executive Chairman David Smith"—would result in Sinclair still providing "everything from programming to advertising sales to the buyer, essentially running WGN-Ch. 9 through a services agreement."

"In plain English, these sidecar arrangements give Sinclair the ability to continue to manage the stations after they have been acquired by third parties, with the option to buy them back at some future time," according to a letter (pdf) of opposition that 15 members of the Coalition to Save Local Media sent to the FCC this week.

The WGN-TV deal would enable Sinclair to reacquire the station "for the same price, subject to adjustments, within eight years," the Tribune reports. Meanwhile, in New York, Sinclair has moved to sell WPIX-TV, under similar conditions, to Cunningham Broadcasting Corp.—which "is owned by the estate of Carolyn Smith, the mother of the Sinclair chairman."

The coalition letter declares that "Sinclair takes its misleading statements one step further in its plans for coming into compliance with the Commission's local ownership rule" in terms of how it plans to handle overlap markets—which are regions where Sinclair and Tribune both currently own stations, and the proposed merger would create a duopoly banned by federal regulations that aim to retain diversity in local news.

"Sinclair says, on one side of its mouth, that it intends to divest stations in eight different markets, but then, on the other side of its mouth, it says that with respect to three of these markets—Seattle/Tacoma, Oklahoma City, and Greensboro—it will enter into the same type of 'option' and 'services agreements,'" the letter notes. "And in three other markets—Indianapolis, Greensboro, and Harrisburg—Sinclair asks the Commission for waivers of the top-four duopoly rule."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

160 Patient Advocates Demand Medicare Negotiation in Build Back Better Package

"We're confident that inclusion of comprehensive drug pricing reforms in the reconciliation package will lower prices, save lives, and ensure continued development of innovative new drugs."

Jessica Corbett ·

'Cartoonish Level Corrupt': As Dems Fight for Bold Agenda, Sinema to Fundraise With Its Corporate Opponents

"Sinema is setting her political future on fire," said one Democratic organizer. "If she doesn't change course drastically and soon, it will be too late."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Momentous Win': Years of Local Opposition Defeats PennEast Pipeline

Opponents in Pennsylvania and New Jersey cheer "cancellation of this unneeded, dangerous fracked gas pipeline."

Jessica Corbett ·

Amid Calls for Closure, House Dems Urge NYC Officials to End 'Inhumane Conditions' at Rikers

A dozen prisoners have died this year alone at the notoriously violent and overcrowded jail complex.

Brett Wilkins ·

'Quite Literally What Instigated the Tunisian Revolution': Outrage After NYC Food Vendor's Stall 'Trashed'

"The abuse of street vendors will continue until there is legislative change, creating a pathway for New York City's smallest businesses to formalize."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo