They say the proposed merger if approved would “reduce viewpoint diversity and competition, harm localism and reduce jobs.”
A number of unions are urging the FCC to deny the proposed $3.9 billion merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media, claiming it would “reduce viewpoint diversity and competition, harm localism and reduce jobs.”
In reply comments filed at the commission, the Communications Workers of America, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA and the NewsGuild-CWA go on to say “a merged Sinclair-Tribune would result in a broadcasting behemoth, owning and operating 223 television stations in 108 markets, including 39 of the top 50 markets. Sinclair’s footprint would expand to reach 72% of U.S. television households, violating the limit by 33%. Even if one calculates national audience reach using the commission’s technically obsolete UHF discount, the merged company would still violate the national audience reach cap by almost 7%.”
In addition, the unions say that Sinclair’s use of joint service agreements (JSAs) and shared service agreements (SSAs) have resulted in “fewer stations producing news, fewer TV stations competing to present a diversity of viewpoints, fewer broadcast station employees, fewer journalists, and less time devoted to local news coverage.”
Another objection of the unions is that in their opinion the proposed merger would likely lead to significant job loss. “CWA, NABET-CWA and TNG-CWA have long opposed JSAs and SSAs, which destroy jobs while diminishing public service. These agreements result in fewer stations producing news, less time devoted to local news, and also fewer broadcast station employees and journalists. The primary cost-saving in these models is the reduction of employees through the elimination of locally originated programming at one or more of the affected stations by duplicating (or triplicating) the same programming.”
The unions noted that “CWA previously documented numerous examples of how JSAs and SSAs lead to significant job loss. To cite one example, Fisher Communications — which was subsequently purchased by Sinclair — established a virtual triopoly in Eugene, Ore., in 2013, shutting down its news operation at KMTR and cutting 31 jobs.”
The comments also claim that the proposed merger would harm localism, “particularly within poor and minority communities that disproportionately rely on over-the-air television broadcasting. Sinclair subscribes to a corporate-driven, top-down editorial style that harms localism. By its own admission, Sinclair engages in ‘central casting’ to cut costs. Given the critical role that broadcast news continues to play, central casting must-run segments threaten localism and viewpoint diversity, which are essential to an informed citizenry in our democracy,” the unions say.
Sinclair’s statements that it would divest itself of stations as a condition of approval is not enough, according to the unions. Rather, the whole deal should be dismissed. “The substantial merger-related harm that would result from a SinclairTribune combination — including massive consolidation in violation of commission rules, the continued use of JSAs and SSAs to get around media ownership limits, the imposition of central casting to reduce localism and viewpoint diversity, and the associated job loss — simply cannot be resolved by station divestiture.”