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FCC Actions, Sinclair-Tribune Merger 'Worrisome' for Conservatives

FCC Actions, Sinclair-Tribune Merger 'Worrisome' for Conservatives
A logo sign outside of the headquarters of the Sinclair Broadcast Group in Cockeysville, Maryland, on August 13, 2017. (Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa via AP Images)

By Wednesday, 07 February 2018 05:03 PM Current | Bio | Archive

For a period of 24 hours the mainstream media in high dungeon said the release of “the FISA memo” would represent a catastrophe for the nation. But after its release, it was judged a “nothing burger.” There is little doubt the public now harbors an increasingly suspicious view of media panjandrums who manipulate the news to satisfy their own ideological positions.

With this as a backdrop it is worth considering the proposed merger of Sinclair and Tribune TV. If approved this would create a broadcasting group owning stations that reach 72 percent of U.S. households. It will, in addition, allow the networks NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX to double the number of stations they own across the country, revising the 39 percent cap that currently exists.

Sinclair is already the largest owner of local television stations in the country. Despite some legislative support for the merger, it is caught up in the fate of the AT&T tentative purchase of Time Warner. Should the move occur, conservative-oriented Sinclair would be in a position to mount a legitimate challenge to Fox News with 233 stations anticipated.

Those on the left are horrified at this prospect and have voiced their disapproval with the FCC. As I see it, the conservative voice has been growing for some time. The issue is somewhat different from the Left’s objection. For purposes of calculating the cap (39 percent), the FCC uses the “UHF discount” which calculates the cap at half of the actual audience, a calculation that skews analysis and likely dominance.

There are also a bundle of FCC rules designed to preserve competition in media markets. These rules limit how many media outlets a single entity can own in a given area. The rules prohibited a major broadcaster from owning a newspaper in the same region and place limits on how many TV and radio stations a company can own in one place with a single owner limited to no more than two of the top four television stations. On November 16 the Commission voted to eliminate most of these ownership rules, despite strenuous objection from a minority. As a result, the FCC was tacitly given a green light for a single company to own a newspaper and multiple stations in the same community. ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX may be salivating over this decision, but its implications for the general public are worrisome.

As a free market advocate I can envision a reasonable merger between Sinclair and Tribune, but what concerns me is that diversity of opinion and the free exchange of views might be limited through monopolistic control. Moreover, localism could be a casualty of bureaucratic conformity.

Consider the manner in which the mainstream media analyzed “the memo.” Consider as well the dominance and spread of the major networks. From an ideological perspective having a conservative Sinclair as a major news outlet has its appeal. But far more noteworthy is the limit on competition and the attempt to squeeze broadcasters that do not fit the prevailing FCC guidelines.

Our journalistic environment prospers with diversity. Having multiple perspectives gives the public an opportunity to make judgments of its own. Clearly sunlight is the best disinfectant. We may lose sight of this principle when media leaders crush dissent and unpopular opinion. This is precisely why I am opposed to FCC regulations that extend the influence of the media power brokers even if many fall into a conservative camp I embrace.

Offering power to any side without restraint damages political discourse. This is what we should guard against and, one would hope, however the Sinclair-Tribune merger unfolds, the public’s need for diverse views will prevail.

Herbert London is the president of the London Center for Policy Research and author of the books "America's Secular Challenge" (Encounter Books) and "The Transformational Decade" (University Press of America). Read more reports from Herbert London — Click Here Now.

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Offering power to any side without restraint damages political discourse. This is what we should guard against and, one would hope, however the Sinclair-Tribune merger unfolds, the public’s need for diverse views will prevail.
sinclair, tribune, fcc, merger
Wednesday, 07 February 2018 05:03 PM
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