Right-leaning media behemoth Sinclair Broadcasting’s proposed $6.6 billion dollar acquisition of Tribune Media could bring higher cable bills and threaten local news reporting, according to opponents of the deal.
Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps calls the deal the “worst merger ever” and referred to Sinclair in a press call earlier this week as the “most dangerous company most Americans have never heard of.”
“No one company should be allowed to wield the power that would be wielded by a Sinclair-Tribune merger,” said Copps. “It’s bound to involve higher cable bills, and it’s bound to involve fewer local news reporters.”
Opponents of Sinclair Broadcasting accuse the company of peddling conservative extremist views and a far-right leaning agenda through the local television stations that it owns, of which there are currently 173.
The merger would result in Sinclair-Tribune controlling stations that reach 72 percent of U.S. households.
“It’s done this through bending rules and outright breaking rules, and they are dangerously on illegal grounds,” said Copps.
The rule-bending that Copps is referencing is the UHF discount, an antiquated FCC loophole that was reinstated just weeks before the Sinclair-Tribune merger was proposed.
The UHF discount allows media companies to only account for half of the coverage area reach of their stations and was established in 1985 to account for an analog system that is no longer used.
The loophole allows for Sinclair-Tribune to far surpass the ownership cap that states no one company can own stations that collectively reach more than 39 percent of the country.
Congressman David Price (D-NC), who has introduced legislation to permanently end the UHF discount, calls the discount a “gimmick”.
“The UHF discount is of course obsolete,” said Price. “This is a power-grab, a consolidation grab that we really need to pay attention to.”
Sinclair has been accused of forcing local networks to air “must-run” segments that tend to be extremely politically charged, including questioning Senator John Kerry’s Vietnam War record and accusing President Obama of being a socialist that received funding from Hamas.
Price is calling for bipartisan cooperation to snuff out the UHF discount and, in turn, stop the merger.
“Corporate consolidation of the media isn’t a problem for just Democrats or Republicans; it’s a problem for anyone who wants to receive programming from a local broadcaster that isn’t a captive to some far-off corporate headquarters or to a political agenda,” said Price.
Price’s Local and Independent Television Protective Act was introduced in the House in late July.