Cantwell Leads Democratic Senators in Call for Scrutiny of Sinclair-Tribune Broadcasting Deal, Senate Hearings

Senators raise concerns about competition and media consolidation

Mega-deal would make Sinclair the largest TV broadcast company in the U.S., impacting consumers by decreasing competition and diversity in broadcasting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) led seven of her Senate colleagues urging Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the chairmen of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees, to examine the pending sale of Tribune Media to Sinclair Broadcasting.

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Al Franken (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) joined Cantwell in signing the letter.

With the acquisition of Tribune Media, Sinclair would have the market power of an unprecedented 200 stations. Smaller stations would have difficulty recruiting top talent and matching Sinclair’s rates for broadcasting content and fees for retransmission. An already challenging business environment for small stations will be made untenable for many by the creation of a Sinclair conglomerate. The proportion of stations owned by women and minorities is abysmally low and would be driven down further by the deal.

“We are concerned about the level of media concentration this merger creates, and its impact on the public interest,” wrote the Senators. “In light of these concerns, we believe that Senate hearings would provide critical transparency for the many American consumers who will be impacted by the deal and greater accountability from the companies who must demonstrate that the deal serves the public interest.”

In Washington state, the mega-deal could put the KOMO and Q13 stations, which account for half of the TV news coverage in the Puget Sound region, under the same ownership.

On top of effects on news coverage and competition, the deal may violate FCC rules. The rules dictate that, for a single market, no two of the top four stations may be owned by the same company. KOMO and Q13 both occupy top-four positions in Puget Sound’s media market, making their joint ownership a potential violation of the rules unless one of the stations is sold. Sinclair’s CEO has indicated he has no intention and sees no need to sell any of the acquired stations.

Hearings before Congress would bring much-needed open deliberation to a deal that, if allowed to proceed, will have serious impacts on both the variety and cost of TV content that a large percentage of American consumers depend on.

The full text of the letter can be found here.