Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Monday moved to pause Sinclair Broadcast Group’s massive $3.9 billion Tribune Media Co. acquisition, putting a deal to expand the conservative local broadcasting behemoth in danger.
At issue, Pai said on Twitter, is whether Sinclair’s proposed divestitures of some stations are in reality a ploy for the company to maintain control of the stations. Pai said the divestitures could allow Sinclair “to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.”
The proposed deal would transfer Tribune’s 42 stations to Sinclair’s ownership, adding to the company’s existing 173 stations. Tribune’s stations cover huge markets including New York and Chicago.
Sinclair has said it will sell off some stations to avoid becoming too big and breaching an FCC cap. But many of the potential future owners of those stations are closely tied to Sinclair leadership. (Pai has supported eliminating the ownership cap as chairman, leading to an inspector general’s probe into whether he improperly coordinated his support with Sinclair.)
Pai’s move to send the issue to an administrative judge for review, the Wall Street Journal reported, could spell trouble for the entire deal. The decision meant “likely doom” for the acquisition, Politico said.
In March, Sinclair made headlines — literally — when it required that newscasters at its stations read a so-called “must run” script warning of the dangers of “biased and false news” and “fake stories.”
“Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think,’” the must-run script, written by Sinclair higher-ups, read. “This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”