President Trump is not happy that the Federal Communications Commission has not embraced Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed acquisition of Tribune Media.
“So sad and unfair that the FCC wouldn’t approve the Sinclair Broadcast merger with Tribune,” Trump said Tuesday on Twitter. “This would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People. Liberal Fake News NBC and Comcast gets approved, much bigger, but not Sinclair. Disgraceful!”
The FCC has not voted to reject the merger. But it did vote last week to have the proposal reviewed by an administrative court, a process that has a history of killing such deals. Tribune Media has already said it is “assessing its options” beyond a sale to Sinclair and can walk away from the deal if it is not closed by Aug. 8.
Sinclair’s plan to buy Tribune’s 42 TV stations for $3.9 billion was expected to benefit from Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who is seen as a champion of deregulation of the broadcast industry.
But Pai raised concerns about how Sinclair planned to divest some Tribune stations in order to meet the national cap on TV-station ownership. Under that plan, Tribune stations in Chicago, Dallas and Houston would have been sold to entities that had business ties to Sinclair for prices well under market value.
Sinclair has offered to amend the deal to address the FCC’s concerns, saying it would divest the stations to buyers not affiliated with the company. But the FCC will not consider any amendment until the administrative court reviews the deal.
Sinclair executives may have been overconfident about FCC accepting such a plan because of their company’s favorable news coverage of Trump. The company forces its local TV stations to air segments and commentaries supporting the Trump administration’s policies, and former Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn is chief political analyst for Sinclair.
There has also been speculation that Sinclair would use the clout of its expanded national reach provided by the addition of Tribune to launch a conservative-leaning news service to compete with Fox News Channel.
Christopher Ruddy, chairman of the conservative site Newsmax, said in April that Trump favors the Sinclair merger because he believes Sinclair could launch a conservative-leaning national evening newscast to counter ABC, CBS and NBC. Ruddy told Trump that such an endeavor is unlikely as the vast majority of Sinclair stations are network affiliates committed to running the existing evening newscasts.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) criticized Trump for chastising the commission for doing its job.
“The FCC is also an independent agency, and the President should not be trying to influence its work to protect consumers,” Pallone wrote on Twitter. “The Sinclair-Tribune merger was bad for local news, competition and diverse viewpoints.”