Sen. Durbin Fighting Sale of WGN-TV Chicago

Says purchase of Tribune Media would stifle local TV station competition

WTVO/WQRF-TV - Senator Dick Durbin is fighting the sale of the broadcasting company which owns WGN-TV Chicago, claiming it undermines laws meant to protect a diversity of voices in local media.  However, some believe his motivation may also be political in nature against a T.V. station group which has accused of being biased.

Chicago-based Tribune Media has agreed to be purchased by Hunt Valley, MD (Baltimore area) based Sinclair Broadcasting for $3.9 billion.  However, current federal law caps the reach of a single ownership group to 39% of the U.S. population.  Should Sinclair purchase Tribune, its reach would be almost double that, which is why Sinclair is seeking relief from that regulation from the Federal Communications Commission so it can complete the purchase.

Sen. Durbin opposes that, saying that ownership limits were originally created to prevent large companies from having excessive influence in local media markets.  “The proposed changes to the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership rules go against the Commission’s directive to promote diversity, localism, and competition and would be a move by the FCC to value corporate growth over the public’s interest,” Durbin wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “I urge the Commission not to adopt the changes.”

Sinclair Broadcasting has also been accused, however, of having a conservative agenda, going so far as to hire a former campaign aide for President Trump to give regular commentaries on its local television stations across the country.  For that reason and others, many Democrats, and even some Republicans, have publicly opposed the merger.

Illinois is one of four states where Attorneys General, all Democrats, have also publicly opposed the merger.

Neither Sinclair or Tribune own T.V. stations in the Stateline area.

Below is a copy of Sen. Durbin's letter to the FCC:

The Honorable Ajit Pai

Chairman, Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street SW

Washington, DC 20554

 

Dear Chairman Pai:

 

The proposed changes to the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership rules go against the Commission’s directive to promote diversity, localism, and competition and would be a move by the FCC to value corporate growth over the public’s interest. 

 

Ownership limits were originally created to prevent large companies from having excessive influence in local media markets by protecting local broadcast stations from being controlled by major national networks.  Despite this and in the face of its ongoing review of a potential mega-merger that would grant a single company reach into 72 percent of households, the FCC now seems poised to ‘relax’ its rules specifically to allow for the creation of a consolidated company—that would essentially be the same as a major national network in size, audience, and content—that owns and controls hundreds of broadcast stations nationwide.  As a result, one company would be able to require hundreds of stations to use the same national correspondents, diminishing choices for the vast majority of local broadcast television viewers who would now get their news from one, uniform voice

 

This arrangement may be acceptable for viewers of the NBC Nightly News, but it runs afoul of the intent of local broadcast stations, which is to serve the particular needs and interests of the individual communities in which they are located.  This unique ability is what sets broadcast television apart from national and cable networks and ensures that Americans always have access to diverse points of view.  The Commission should not ‘modernize’ its rules by paving the way for broadcast television to simply mimic its network counterparts. 

 

The new, proposed rules would lead to greater consolidation of broadcast station ownership and severely hinder localism. I urge the Commission not to adopt the changes. 

 

Sincerely,

 

Richard J. Durbin

United States Senator

 


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