Sinclair Urges FCC to Reject Petition Calling for Early License Review

Sinclair Broadcast Group 2004 - Getty - H 2017
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Sinclair Broadcasting Group is attacking a petition filed at the FCC by the American Cable Association calling for regulators to review whether the owner of several Fox- and ABC-affiliated stations around the nation's capital is still fit to hold broadcast licenses.

"ACA lacks standing to seek such an extraordinary measure and, in any event, fails to allege any substantial and material question of fact that would constitute a 'serious' or 'compelling' reason to require Sinclair’s D.C., Maryland, and Virginia licensee subsidiaries to file renewal applications for the Stations before they would otherwise be due on June 1, 2020," states an opposition brief filed Monday.

The petition late last month from the American Cable Association, which represents small cable and broadband operators throughout the nation, is fallout from Sinclair's disastrous attempt to acquire 42 TV stations from Tribune Media. The $3.9 billion deal would have made Sinclair a national force just as it endures controversy by requiring its stations to pick up conservative-leaning viewpoints on local newscasts. The acquisition became doomed after the FCC expressed concern about Sinclair's representations about proposed station divestitures — needed to clear regulatory hurdles — wherein "side-car" arrangements allowed Sinclair to hold onto effective control of those stations. After the FCC threw review of the Sinclair-Tribune transaction to an administrative law judge, the application was pulled, and Tribune and Sinclair filed suit against each other. Tribune now proposes to sell stations to Nexstar.

Just because Sinclair's acquisition of Tribune stations was called off doesn't mean the FCC shouldn't take a look at Sinclair's existing stations, asserts ACA.

Demanding that Sinclair be required to seek an early renewal of licenses, the trade group tells the broadcast regulatory agency, "[W]ere the Commission to determine that Sinclair indeed engaged in misrepresentation and lack of candor with respect to stations not subject to this Petition, it could determine that Sinclair lacks the requisite character to hold FCC licenses."

Sinclair's opposition says there has only been three occasions in the last 67 years where the FCC initiated early renewal proceedings and contends that each are "easily distinguishable from the present circumstances." Further, Sinclair argues that high retransmission fees don't amount to the type of injury that would confer ACA with standing to pursue its petition. Sinclair adds there has been no firm finding about the allegations raised with respect to its prior application to acquire Tribune stations and characterizes the latest petition as "simply (another) transparent attempt to engage the Commission in aiding its retransmission consent negotiations."