David Smith, chairman of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, defended his company's decision to have local TV news anchors deliver a scripted speech that warned about fake news, The New York Times reports.
Sinclair has become a hot-button topic as it seeks approval to reach over 70 percent U.S. households after its mega-merger with Tribune Broadcasting. The deal, which is still seeking approval from the FCC and Justice Dept., would give Sinclair the largest reach of any TV network in the nation, exceeding the current 39 percent ownership cap.
Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy and other conservative leaders like Michael Reagan and Tom DeLay have warned that federal approval of Sinclair's merger with Tribune would allow major liberal networks like NBC, CBS, and ABC to buy up a massive number of local broadcast television stations, giving them direct control over local news coverage with the ability to influence public opinion.
Smith's comments came in an email exchange with the Times, where he likened the segments, known as "must-runs," to late-night shows that networks air on their local affiliates.
"Not that you would print it, but do you understand that every local TV station is required to 'must run' from its network their content," he wrote, citing "all their news programming and other shows such as late-night talk, which is just late-night political so-called comedy."
The recent segments, which also warned against "one-sided news stories plaguing our country," have sparked controversy.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., expressed his concerns in a letter to Smith.
"I write with concerns following Sinclair Broadcast Group's decision to require local news anchors at Sinclair-owned stations to deliver a scripted promotional message on-air," he said.
While not referring to Durbin's letter, Smith said he does not understand all the fuss over the segments.
"You can't be serious!" he said of the criticism. "Do you understand that as a practical matter every word that comes out of the mouths of network news people is scripted and approved by someone?"
And he maintained the promotional segments "were tested by a well-recognized research firm in this industry."
The Times noted that last year Sinclair had asked its stations to air a piece from Scott Livingston, who is now the company's senior vice president of news. His script was similar to the one the news anchors recently read, according to the newspaper.
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