Public Knowledge Welcomes Chairman Pai’s Decision to Refer Sinclair Merger for Administrative Review

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Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced circulation of a draft hearing designation order regarding the Sinclair-Tribune merger, which would likely terminate the deal. The merger between Sinclair Broadcasting Group, the largest owner of local television stations in the country, and Tribune Media would enable Sinclair to reach 72 percent of U.S. households -- significantly more than the nationwide audience cap of 39 percent as determined by Congress. Public Knowledge welcomes Chairman Pai’s decision to take this concern seriously and refer the case to an administrative law judge for review.

The following can be attributed to Phillip Berenbroick, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge:

“We applaud Chairman Pai’s decision to challenge important elements of this transaction. The FCC’s merger analysis requires that transactions affirmatively serve the public interest. It was clear at the outset that Sinclair Broadcast Group’s attempt to acquire Tribune Media would harm the public interest and consumers, and decrease diversity and independence in local broadcasting.

“Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune would have harmed the public interest in multiple ways. The combined firm would have had unprecedented power in retransmission consent negotiations, giving rise to higher cable bills for consumers. Additionally, the merger would have significantly reduced viewpoint diversity in broadcast television -- essentially eliminating the local component of local broadcasting and replacing it with centralized editorial content, disguised with trusted local broadcasters. The transaction would have also given Sinclair significant leverage to delay the repack of the 600 MHz band, delaying mobile broadband deployment and hindering efforts to close the digital divide.

“From the beginning, and throughout its repeated attempts to revise its divestiture plans, Sinclair time-and-again failed to show that its combination with Tribune would offer any tangible, transaction-specific public interest benefits, and repeatedly failed to address the significant harms the merger would create. Today’s decision by the Commission to designate the Sinclair-Tribune application for an administrative hearing is the appropriate decision and best serves the public interest.”

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