By Baynard Woods
The Federal Communications Commission made it easier for media monopolies to dominate American cities by removing roadblocks to their consolidation.
The Republican-led FCC voted 3-2 Thursday to eliminate the 42-year-old ban prohibiting the same entity from owning multiple broadcast companies or combining broadcast and print businesses within the same market.
Many see the ruling as a means to ease a deal that would allow Sinclair, the largest owner of local media, to grow even larger, buying Tribune Media.
“Today you’ve turned over our collective resource of the public broadcast airwaves to a company whose business model is built on tearing apart the fabric of communities by pushing racist fearmongering in the guise of news,” the media advocacy group Free Press wrote in an open letter to FCC commissioner Ajit Pai. “You granted Sinclair the ability to not simply broadcast this hate, but to maximize its already inflated profits by targeting its seeds of hate.”
Pai had already overseen the loosening of earlier restrictions, allowing Sinclair, which allegedly traded access for positive coverage with the Trump campaign, to broadcast more broadly than would have previously been allowed.
“You’ve removed the last barrier preventing one voice from monopolizing every aspect of news production in America’s smaller communities, ensuring future generations will remain ignorant of the corruption taking place around them,” the letter continued.
Sinclair has also been criticized for preempting local coverage for right-wing commentary from the likes of former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn. Groups like Media Matters have documented his misleading claims around healthcare reform.
The New York Times has reported that Sinclair has “used its 173 television stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda since the presidency of George W. Bush,” and the Washington Post has shown that Sinclair “and its executives have been consistent financial contributors to Republican candidates.” Politico reported earlier this year that Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner “struck a deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group during the campaign to try and secure better media coverage,” without making the deal clear to viewers.
The purchase of Tribune could place Sinclair in 70% of American households.
Sinclair fired Randy Lubratich, an executive producer at station WWMT in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for tweeting unfavorably about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. In Baltimore, the Maryland-based Sinclair has launched a “hyperlocal” investigative project—Project Baltimore—that looks for flaws in the public school system and often praises charter schools.
Fox 45, the Sinclair station that runs the reports, has also been caught editing the chants of activists in an inaccurate and misleading fashion. In 2014, Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West, a man killed by Baltimore police, was leading a chant “can’t stop, won’t stop, til killer cops are in cell blocks.” When the chant appeared on Fox 45, however, they cut off the end and indicated she was chanting that she would “kill a cop.”
Baltimore Sun media columnist David Zurawik has called Sinclair’s Trump-favoring pre-emption “as close to classic propaganda as anything I have seen in broadcast television in the last 30 years.”
Reuters contributed to this report
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