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FCC Commissioner Slams Her Own Agency for Policies 'Custom-Built' to Favor Sinclair-Tribune Merger

"We're burning down the values of media policy in this agency in order to service this company."

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel raised concerns about her agency's recent policy decisions, which could work in Sinclair Broadcasting's favor. (Photo: New America/Flickr/cc)

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel on Tuesday argued against her own agency's recent policy rulings under the Trump administration, in light of President Donald Trump's defense of Sinclair Broadcasting as the conservative broadcasting giant attempts to merge with Tribune Media in a $3.9 billion deal.

Critics, including Rosenworcel, are concerned that under Chairman Ajit Pai, who Trump appointed last year, the FCC is moving deliberately to allow the Sinclair-Tribune merger to go through.  Known for pushing right-wing viewpoints within the stations it already owns, the broadcaster drew ire this week after a viral video showed how local anchors nationwide are forced to read the same pre-packaged scripts.

The FCC voted last November to loosen regulations meant to ensure a variety of viewpoints are disseminated via the nation's news broadcasts, allowing broadcast companies like Sinclair to control two of the top four stations in a given market.

Rosenworcel was joined by fellow Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn in dissenting when the rules were eliminated, with Clyburn calling the decision "deeply flawed."

"This is really about helping large media companies grow even larger," she added.

As CNET points out, just before Sinclair announced it would seek to merge with Tribune—a move that would give Sinclair control of 42 additional stations in major markets like New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.—the FCC also reinstated a loophole allowing Sinclair to undercount the households it reached in order to keep its scope under the threshold of 39 percent of the nation's homes.

The Sinclair-Tribune merger would extend the company's reach to nearly three-quarters of households, according to the New York Times.

According to Pew Research, around 30 percent of American adults get their news from local television broadcasts. If Sinclair and Tribune do finally merge, the company will reach 70 percent of American households.

And against Rosenworcel's wishes, the FCC also voted to adopt a framework for mobile streaming technology to which Sinclair owns numerous patents.

"Before we authorize billions for patent holders and saddle consumers with the bills, we better understand how these rights holders will not take advantage of the special status conferred upon them by the FCC," Rosenworcel said at the time.

Speaking with the Daily Beast, the commissioner added, "We're burning down the values of media policy in this agency in order to service this company."

To stop Sinclair from accumulating even more power, argued John Nichols at the Nation, the company's top advocate in the Trump administration—Ajit Pai—should be taken out of the FCC's decision-making process regarding Sinclair.

"Pai's machinations have been so concerning that the agency's top internal watchdog launched an investigation into whether the chairman pushed to change media ownership rules to benefit the Sinclair-Tribune merger deal," Nichols wrote. "This is a moment that requires a public outcry on behalf of diverse and competitive, community-focused and service-oriented local news. That outcry must, as a beginning, demand that Pai recuse himself from deliberations regarding the Sinclair-Tribune deal."

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