In Threat to Local News Nationwide, Trump DOJ Signals Support for Sinclair-Tribune Merger

Sinclair Broadcast Group has cleared another hurdle in its mission to buy Tribune Media, with Trump’s Justice Department signaling its support for the proposed merger if the companies agree to sell about a dozen stations to avoid antitrust issues, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

“The department told the companies the deal as currently structured raises antitrust problems and that 12 to 13 station sales are necessary to alleviate concerns about competition in markets where a combined Sinclair-Tribune would otherwise have a commanding presence,” people familiar with the matter told the Journal.

Although the sources declined to reveal the list of markets where stations would need to be sold, they said “it generally mirrors a list of overlapping markets Sinclair flagged in papers to the Federal Communications Commission,” which includes “areas where Sinclair and Tribune each have stations that are in the top four locally, such as St. Louis and Salt Lake City.”

Sinclair, the nation’s largest television company, already owns 173 local stations across the country. With proposed $3.9 billion merger, the broadcaster would gain control over Tribune Media’s 42 stations. While, as the Journal reports, “Sinclair has called the deal a transformational one that would create a leading national media platform and give it resources to launch a wireless platform for a streaming video service,” consumer advocates are concerned the merger would give the right-wing Sinclair unfair influence over local news.

President and CEO Craig Aaron has called the proposal “a scandal” that would enable Sinclair to “air its cookie-cutter newscasts to nearly 70 percent of the country’s population in local markets across the country.”

Aaron’s group has petitioned (pdf) the FCC to deny the merger, warning: “Sinclair’s practice of forcing stations to promote an extreme conservative perspective and distort local news actively threatens the well-being of marginalized communities across the nation, specifically communities of color and immigrants. People of color disproportionately rely on broadcast news and thus will be disproportionately harmed by a reduction in localism, competition, and diversity.”