Group Challenges Sinclair Licenses

Times Staff Writer

A Massachusetts-based nonprofit group on Monday filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission challenging the license renewal applications for television stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group in North and South Carolina.

The challenge to license renewals for six Sinclair stations and two owned by a closely affiliated firm, Cunningham Broadcasting, came after the firm was embroiled in national controversy over plans to air “Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal,” a film that is highly critical of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

Faced with widespread protests and threats of an advertising boycott, Sinclair instead broadcast a news special that included about five minutes of the original film.


The challenges by the nonprofit group Free Press are the first in what some expect to be a series of such actions involving Sinclair-held licenses as they come up for renewal in the months ahead. Sinclair stations in Florida are up for renewal in January. Licenses are granted for eight-year periods. Executives of Sinclair, which owns or controls 62 broadcast outlets across the U.S., could not be reached for comment Monday.

Free Press says in its petition that Sinclair has violated the FCC’s so-called duopoly rule, which limits the number of licenses one company can hold in a single market. Citing Sinclair’s use of local marketing agreements -- which allow a company to manage but not control another station in the same market -- the petition charges that Sinclair has effectively taken over such outlets.

Sinclair, the petition said, has been acting “as if it owned these stations outright. All decisions are made at Sinclair headquarters in suburban Baltimore.” The petition noted that the head of Cunningham is the mother of the controlling stockholders of Sinclair.

The petition also noted Sinclair’s use of a centralized newscast at many of its stations.

“Sinclair is the poster child for abuse of the public airwaves,” Josh Silver, Free Press executive director, said in a statement. He charged that the company had engaged in practices to evade FCC regulations by “combining a unique blend of self-serving, right-wing ideology with lawless behavior that requires the FCC to take action.” The challenge to the licenses could trigger public hearings, which have been requested by Free Press. It could be several months before the FCC makes a final decision.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, “Stolen Honor” found an even wider broadcast outlet than Sinclair would have provided, when the conservative, Florida-based news website spent $294,500 to buy infomercial time for the film on the Pax broadcast network, which reaches nearly 90% of U.S. homes with televisions. The film aired 10 times, ending Monday.

Pax spokeswoman Nancy Udell said the film wasn’t part of Pax programming, and added that the network sells political advertising to all buyers. She said the website asked about ad rates “several weeks ago,” but placed the ad buy last week.


Pax received viewer comments for and against the airings, she said. NewsMax executives didn’t return calls for comment.

Times staff writer Elizabeth Jensen contributed to this story from New York.