California Congressman Presses Sinclair on Merger Concerns (Exclusive)

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Rep. Tony Cardenas

In a letter, Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas asked tough questions about the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

On Wednesday afternoon, Congressman Tony Cardenas sent a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley outlining concerns he and his 48 co-signers have about the company's pending acquisition of Tribune Media.

Democratic politicians have joined with public interest groups and even conservative media companies to oppose the merger, which is under review by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice. Opponents have argued that the transaction will result in staff cuts at local television stations and the politicization of the medium. 

"What percentage of station staff does Sinclair plan to keep for each local station it acquires, and what percentage would it replace with Sinclair-hired staff?" Rep. Cardenas asked Ripley in the letter. "Would Sinclair keep local news directors and local news anchors in their positions if the merger is approved? How would Sinclair ensure that local news is respectful and responsive to local concerns?"

Sinclair has said repeatedly that the company is committed to local news, but has not provided specifics about how it will handle the local TV stations that will come with the deal. The company expects the deal to close in early 2018, Ripley said Wednesday morning on an earnings call.

Cardenas asked for a response to his letter by Nov. 10. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he said that Sinclair's coverage is "very skewed, and it's very divisive in some ways," adding that "it's really scary to think that they would actually have the ability to influence what people hear and see in their local news across the country."

But, as the minority party in both houses of Congress, Cardenas said that concerned Democratic legislators are limited in what they can do to slow down or stop the deal. "Right now, Washington is very much skewed toward, whatever the Republicans are uncomfortable with, we don't get hearings," he said. "I hope that they're starting to wake up to the fact that this is a very dangerous slope to go down."

Despite the anti-merger effort being coordinated by the Coalition to Save Local Media, some opponents have said openly that they expect the deal to go through. "If I was a betting man, I would say the chances are that it's going to be approved," former FCC commissioner Michael Copps told THR recently.