In what would have been the realization of one of George Orwell’s worst nightmares, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media fostered a deal worth $3.9 billion which would have enabled the companies to form a right-wing TV network able to reach seven out of every ten American homes. The objective was to compete with Fox News for conservative viewership by effectively eradicating local journalism from coast to coast.
Fortunately for Americans who do not consider ‘1984’ to be an instruction manual, the deal, which had the full support of President Donald J. Trump, fell apart after getting caught up in regulatory red tape. Tribune Media is now suing Sinclair for breach of contract and seeking $1 billion in damages.
It had been expected that Tribune would walk away from the deal after the FCC referred the deal to an administrative judge hearing, which is usually a death sentence for such deals in the U.S. as courts are typically reluctant to approve such mega mergers.
In a bid to appease regulators Sinclair said it would divest itself of some of its TV stations, but concerns were raised because they were being sold to people who are very closely aligned with Sinclair, additionally the sale agreements would have allowed Sinclair to continue to operate the stations. In its referral order, the FCC said, “The record raises significant questions as to whether those proposed divestitures were in fact ‘sham’ transactions.”
The FCC’s position on the matter seems backed up by Tribune Media’s lawsuit, which alleges that, “In an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell if advisable to obtain regulatory clearance, Sinclair engaged in belligerent and unnecessarily protracted negations with DOJ and the FCC over regulator requirements… all in the service of Sinclair’s self-interest and in derogation of its contractual obligations.”
How are they ‘Orwellian’?
Sinclair Broadcast Group has frequently drawn the ire of audiences and been the butt of jokes from late night comedians over its use of “Must Run” segments written by the company itself to be broadcast by all TV stations it owns. Sinclair also compels its TV stations to broadcast segments from its “Terrorism Alert Desk” which uses vague and out of context stories and language to warn viewers arrests and threats in order to stoke fear and finally telling them to ‘stay tuned for more information’ which naturally never comes until the next Alert Desk segment begins the cycle anew.
Another “Must Run” segment which drew infamy for Sinclair was its broadcast about “Fake News” which found its way into a viral video. YouTube channel ‘Deadspin’ produced a video showing the news anchors of various Sinclair owned TV stations broadcasting the same message and really strikes home the clear and present dangers posed by a heavily consolidated media monopoly in a deregulated free market space with no oversight or accountability and backed by the President of the United States himself who has frequently defended Sinclair’s Orwellian tactics simply because they have offered him favorable coverage in return for a helping hand with regulators. Something which Trump was unable to deliver.
Photo: An example of one of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s must run ‘terrorism alert desk’ segments.