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Sinclair Broadcasting: Media Company or Propaganda Machine?
PROPAGANDA prop-a-gan-da – noun - information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.
CNN recently broke the news that the Sinclair Broadcast Group would be forcing news anchors to record a prepared promo about “fake news”. This past weekend the folks at Deadspin put together a collage of the results of this mandate.
Why is this important? Let’s take a step back and look at it.
In May of 2017, the Sinclair Broadcast Group announced its intention of purchasing Tribune Media. As we currently live in a business climate that's the equivalent of corporate Pac-Man, in and of itself, this sort of acquisition isn’t too shocking. If you scratch the surface of this, it should terrify you.
Let me scratch.
The nation’s airwaves belong, in theory, to the public. With the Communications Act of 1934, the Federal Communications Commission was created and tasked with overseeing the nation’s airwaves. Since the airwaves belong to the people, the FCC only granted temporary individual station licenses rather than selling the frequencies, which would violate the principle. Because the licenses were only temporary, the FCC required a renewal process which stated that the licensees had to demonstrate that some of the programs they aired were in the “public interest” like public affair programming or news. Initially, an awkward relationship existed between entertainment and news, but with World War II, news divisions came into their own, becoming critical to the national debate and even generating revenue.
In addition to FCC licenses requiring “public interest” programming, there was a provision that only allowed one-to-a-market ownership of television and radio combinations. Well, 22 years ago the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was enacted and while the FCC still held on to the license grants, it eased up on the one-to-a-market principle for the top 50 markets.
Today, Sinclair Broadcast Group owns or operates 173 broadcast television stations, in 81 markets, with affiliations with all major networks. In short, that makes the Sinclair Broadcast Group the largest local news provider in the country. With the proposed acquisition of Tribune’s 42 broadcast stations, and its ancillary properties, the combined company would reach 72% of U.S. television households and would own the largest number of television stations of any station group.
It should be noted that Sinclair has a history of being a conservative media outlet and enforcing their agenda to their stations. Now, of course, there’s nothing wrong with a media outlet leaning right. I may find it suspect that they force their employees to broadcast prepared statements, that are in synch with President Trump:
I may also find it suspect to mandate that your local news stations air commentary segments from former Trump aide Boris Ephshteyn, segments that literally no one would see otherwise (Boris Ephshteyn’s commentaries on YouTube average under 100 views).
If the Sinclair and Tribune acquisition is approved and they are allowed to reach three-fourths of the country, that's an alarming amount of influence.
I’m not convinced this would be in the “public interest”.
I may say that's more like propaganda than news.