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Sinclair looks to expand its conservative broadcast network

By Laurie Bennett

August 8, 2017 at 6:06am

After decades of quietly building a nationwide network of TV stations, Sinclair Broadcast Group is now in the spotlight.

Opponents such as Common Cause and the American Cable Association are speaking out against the company’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media Co., which owns 42 stations, in major markets such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. The merger would increase Sinclair’s holdings to more than 200 TV stations in 108 markets.

As USA Today notes, Sinclair has said its reach would grow to 72 percent of homes in 108 markets, including 39 of the top 50.

Critics say the expansion would exceed the federal maximum reach of 39 percent.

However, the Federal Communications Commission, chaired by Trump appointee Ajit Varadaraj Pai, recently loosened limits on TV station ownership, enabling broadcasters to understate the reported reach of VHF channels.

Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told Politico the ruling was a regulatory deceit.

“Congress was explicit in…saying 39 percent viewership would be the maximum,” Wheeler said. “There was funny math created to allow the count to come up to still be below 39 percent, wink wink.”

Many voice concerns about Sinclair’s overt conservative leanings. Boris Epshteyn, a former adviser to the Trump campaign and assistant to the president, is now the company’s chief political analyst. Sinclair regularly sends its stations “must-run” videos that support conservative policies.

Here’s a March 23 video in which Sinclair VP Scott Livingston defends the company’s coverage and attacks the “irresponsible and one-sided news stories” presented by other media:

Sinclair doesn’t openly brand its stations, which operate as affiliates of Fox, ABC, CBS, NBC and other networks, so viewers don’t always realize the source of broadcast content. (To find out if the company owns stations in your market, check this Wikipedia list. Sinclair also publishes a list on its web site.)

Though publicly traded, Sinclair is controlled by four brothers, sons of company founder Julian Sinclair Smith.

Campaign contributions by the company PAC last year favored Republicans two to one, but spending was relatively modest, totalling $91,375. Individual donations by the Smith brothers also lean Republican, though company Chairman David Smith has given to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

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