Sensing an opportunity with coverage of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma still firmly in the news, an industry group that opposes the impending merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media argued that weather coverage would be irreparably damaged by the tie-up.
“[T]he proposed Sinclair Broadcasting-Tribune Media merger puts local weather anchors and reporters across the country at risk of being fired due to Sinclair’s record of eliminating veteran weather anchors, reporters and resources used by newsrooms to report live and on the ground during weather events such as hurricanes, tornados, floods and snow storms,” the Coalition to Save Local Media said Thursday morning in a statement.
Said former FCC commissioner Michael Copps: “Too often we think in abstract or ideological terms about these huge media mergers. Harvey and Irma bring it into real-life terms — people’s safety and people’s lives. Let’s hope the FCC can think about in in these terms, too.”
On Thursday afternoon, Sinclair released a statement in response to the organization’s claims. “Sinclair recognizes the life-saving role local weather coverage plays in times of emergencies and to suggest that Sinclair would ever put the well-being of our viewers at risk by cutting local weather coverage is absurd,” vp news Scott Livingston said. “Over-the-air broadcasting provides critical information during crises and we remain committed to providing this essential information to our local communities.”
The Coalition to Save Local Media, in the release, mentioned several instances of Sinclair weather cutbacks, including the case of meteorologist Norm Van Ness, who was terminated from his long-standing position at WNWO-TV in Toledo, Ohio, earlier this year as part of a wave of trimming.
Van Ness, who now serves as chief meteorologist for an NBC affiliate in Toledo, pointed to changes in how news is consumed as an even bigger potential threat to weather coverage. “Will further consolidation cause injury to local TV weather coverage? Of course it will,” Van Ness told The Hollywood Reporter in an email. “But, it was already approaching critical mass. As local TV meteorologists, our battle isn’t with ‘Big TV.’ It’s with Apple and Google.”