Tribune calls off merger, blasts Sinclair for circumventing FCC rules

Aug 10, 2018, 01:06
Tribune calls off merger, blasts Sinclair for circumventing FCC rules

The media company, which has enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, appeared to be cruising toward approval by USA regulators.

"In light of the FCC's unanimous decision, referring the issue of Sinclair's conduct for a hearing before an administrative law judge, our merger can not be completed within an acceptable timeframe, if ever", Tribune CEO Peter Kern said in a statement. "Millions of people spoke out against this deal, and that public pressure was instrumental in keeping the spotlight on Sinclair".

"We've done everything we could to assist Sinclair in getting through the regulatory process, and it's been a huge undertaking for our company to manage through this prolonged exercise, while also keeping our business running strong", Tribune Media CEO Peter Kern said during an earnings call Thursday morning.

Tribune has been considering its options since the Federal Communications Commission voted last month to send Sinclair's application to a review by an administrative law judge, a move that typically signals the end of such mergers. Sinclair already own 39% of the TV stations in the U.S., and this would have raised that to 42%.

Sinclair Broadcast Group had offered to buy the Chicago company's 42 TV stations and had agreed to get rid of stations in some markets to gain regulatory approval.

In its statement, Tribune said, "Sinclair's entire course of conduct has been in blatant violation of the merger agreement and, but for Sinclair's actions, the transaction could have closed long ago". The media company which has enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, appeared to be cruising toward approval by US regulators.

Tribune Media highlighted those divestitures - which reportedly would have involved selling stations to companies with close ties to the Smith family - in a statement on Thursday, saying Sinclair "engaged in unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations" with both the FCC and the Justice Department.

A dozen Senate Democrats said in April Sinclair was deliberately distorting news coverage by forcing local stations to read scripts that criticized what it described as "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country".

Sinclair did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Thursday, Kern said the FCC order, which has been the death knell for previous media mergers, was the final straw for Tribune Media.

In a surprise move in July, however, Pai said he had "serious concerns" and suggested Sinclair was trying to hide anticompetitive practices in its proposed purchase and divestiture of certain stations.

The FCC's concerns followed similar questions raised in separate filings by the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative news outlet Newsmax Media.

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