Until recently, such a merger would have faced long odds, because the deal would have violated federal media ownership rules that prohibit a single company from owning TV stations that reach more than 39 percent of the nation's audience. Those rules are designed to advance federally mandated goals of media diversity, localism, and competition, and to prevent any one media company from becoming too powerful.But in April, Trump's Federal Communications Commission chief, Republican Ajit Pai, pushed through a measure that will allow the Sinclair-Tribune merger to proceed. Pai accomplished this by reinstating an obsolete loophole called the "UHF discount," which allows broadcasters to discount by 50 percent the reach of local stations that use ultra-high-frequency (UHF) TV signals.
"No one company should have such power over the news and information that citizens must have to successfully practice the art of self-government."
As a result of this disparity in the relative "strength" between VHF and UHF signals, broadcasters using the latter were allowed to "discount" by 50% the reach of these stations for the purposes of federal media ownership rules. As a practical matter, this meant that broadcast TV owners could exceed federal media ownership limits by "discounting" the reach of UHF stations as compared to VHF stations.Years ago, the UHF-discount made sense, but it doesn't anymore, because the 2009 transition of over-the-air television to digital broadcasting made UHF stations equal in quality to VHF stations. So what was Pai's rationale for reinstating the UHF discount? The chairman argued that the FCC had erred in removing the discount without simultaneously considering changes to the 39% national broadcast ownership cap, which he wants to raise.Pai's action faced fierce criticism from opponents of media consolidation, including Democratic FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who warned that reinstating the UHF discount would allow a small group of big TV station owners to get even bigger."The Commission just wrapped up and put a bow on a huge gift for those large broadcasters with ambitious dreams of more consolidation," Clyburn said at the FCC's April meeting. "Now I am not a betting woman, but mark my word: This Order will have an immediate impact on the purchase and sale of television stations."
The FCC "wrapped up and put a bow on a huge gift for those large broadcasters."
In 2010, several Sinclair stations broadcast what critics called an "infomercial" funded by a Republican political action committee that made several incendiary claims against President Obama, including that he was a "socialist" who had raised money from Hamas. In 2012, Sinclair again faced controversy for forcing many of its stations to run an election-eve special that was criticized as being unfairly harsh toward Obama.
The Trump campaign struck an agreement with Sinclair that offered the company exclusive access to key campaign personnel in hopes of receiving "straighter" coverage. At the time, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner noted that Sinclair reaches more people than CNN in many states: "It's math," he said.