Democrats Sound Alarm Over Sinclair-Tribune Deal

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By Liz Crampton

Ten Democratic senators urged the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission to take a close look at the proposed $3.9 billion tie-up of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. and Tribune Media Co. and other pending media deals.

Sinclair agreed to buy Tribune in May, and the transaction has been under investigation by the Justice Department since August. Clearance could come in the first quarter of this year, but it would likely involve some required divestitures of stations in 10 locations where the markets overlap, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made loosening the nation’s media ownership rules a top priority, and the commission has begun work unwinding several long-standing restrictions on media acquisitions. Last month the commission begin writing a new rule to raise the limit on the market share a single broadcaster is permitted to own nationally. In November, it raised the limit on how much media an owner can control in a single market.

The senators predicted that the change in the FCC rules will encourage more broadcast, radio, and print media consolidation. They also said the Sinclair-Tribune merger is a direct result of the FCC’s rule reversal.

The letters to the FCC and the DOJ were signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Dick Dirbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Gary Peters (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill).

“Under these circumstances, the need for the DOJ to conduct thorough, objective reviews of individual transactions in the media sector is greater than ever,” the letter said. “Sinclair’s proposed acquisition of Tribune is an example of the kind of media merger that raises obvious and troubling competitive issues. Given the recent relaxation of regulations at the FCC, mergers of this size may become more common.”

Spokespeople for the FCC and the DOJ declined to comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Liz Crampton in Washington at lcrampton@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com

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