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WXMI 17 station parent company about to merge with Trump Administration friendly Sinclair Broadcasting Group

October 10, 2017

In May of this year it was announced that the Fox affiliate, WXMI 17 and their parent company the Tribune Media Co., would be bought up by the Sinclair Broadcasting group.

MiBiz recently ran an article about this buyout and does a pretty good job of pointing out that this merger would be in violation of current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules. 

This is because the Sinclair Broadcasting Group already owns a TV station in the area, WMMT, channel 3, based in Kalamazoo, and according to FCC rules, you can’t own more than one TV station in the same market.

Radio/TV ownership deregulation

The deregulation of radio and TV stations is nothing new. Beginning in the 1980s, there was the first major push to deregulate the broadcast market and allow for greater media ownership consolidation.

The largest shift came in 1996, under the Clinton administration, where radio corporation were allowed to expand the number of stations they owned in one market from 3 to 8. This FCC shift during the Clinton years gave birth to mega-media corporations like Clear Channel, which owns 8 radio stations in the Grand Rapids market.

However, the push to further consolidate media ownership didn’t end with the 1996 FCC ruling, especially since the media companies themselves have become monopolies looking out for their own interests. Media companies spend millions annually lobby the federal government to further deregulate the broadcast market.  According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, you can see how much the commercial TV & radio companies have been spending on lobbying and how they give pretty much equally to both parties.

WXMI 17 and media bias

As someone who has been monitoring the local news over the past 30 years, it is clear that WXMI presents news through the lens of the dominant culture. When I say dominant culture, I mean they represent the views of those with economic and political power, along with a bias towards white supremacy.

This bias has nothing to do with them being a FOX affiliate, since they have never been owned by FOX, they just rely on FOX News as a source for national news. We have tracked WXMI 17 around election coverage since 1998, along with war coverage, racial representation and a number of other issues and WXMI 17 is no more biased that WOOD TV8 or WZZM 13

Sinclair Broadcasting Group and the Trump Administration

While WXMI 17 has not demonstrated any partisan bias, this may change if the station gets bought up by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group.

The partisan bias of the Sinclair Broadcasting Group has been well documented for more than a decade. According to the Center for Media & Democracy (CMD), The company and its executives have consistently funded right-wing political candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

CMD goes on to state

In April 2004, Sinclair refused to let its stations broadcast a special “Nightline” episode, produced by the ABC television network, that was devoted to reading the names of soldiers who had died in “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” It also directed its stations to air an anti-Kerry program ahead of the 2004 presidential election.

Sinclair stations are forced to make room for “must run” segments produced by the company, such as brashly right-wing video op-eds from Sinclair executive Mark Hyman and the station’s chief political analyst (and senior advisor to Trump’s campaign) Boris Epshteyn, who memorably claimed that President Obama won North Carolina because of voter fraud.

Sinclair stations are also fed scripts to introduce must-runs, leaving local news stations across the country echoing language such as, “Did the FBI have a personal vendetta in pursuing the Russia investigation of President Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn?” as evidence was mounting that Flynn was in serious legal jeopardy for failure to report foreign ties and for withholding information from the Pentagon and the FBI.

According to the national media reform group, the Free Press, the Sinclair media merger would be detrimental to a free flow of information. In a recent post, the Free Press writes: 

In addition to violating the agency’s longstanding ownership rules, the merger would give an even bigger megaphone to a company that forces its stations to run right-wing political commentaries every single day. Sinclair routinely overrides the objections of local journalists and fails to provide coverage that serves community needs. At its worst, Sinclair uses its massive network of broadcast stations to fan the flames of racial and religious prejudice and put local communities at risk. “When a broadcaster’s political perspective is so strident that it inhibits local editorial control and subverts localism, the Commission must consider whether that broadcaster is acting in the public interest,” reads the Free Press response.

“Sinclair has long evaded the FCC rules it’s now trying to completely erase with the help of the Trump FCC under Chairman Pai,” said Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. “Sinclair forces its local stations to air pro-Trump propaganda and then seeks favors from the Trump administration worth billions. This should be a national scandal. And if it’s allowed to happen, it will unleash a new and unprecedented wave of consolidation in local TV that may boost short-term stock prices but will spell long-term disaster for local communities.”

“For all their bluster, Sinclair and Tribune have once again failed to show how this unprecedented merger could possibly serve the public interest,” said Free Press Policy Analyst Dana Floberg. “Instead they seek to distract the FCC with boasting and technical quibbles in the hopes that Chairman Pai will overlook the transaction’s blatant violations of FCC ownership rules. The reality is that this deal would seriously harm people of color, low-income families and other communities that rely on local television for local news. It would silence independent community voices while giving mega-broadcaster Sinclair even more control over what we see and hear on the news.”

This proposed media merger will benefit the small number of media monopolies that exist, but you won’t hear about it from other broadcasters. The local TV stations certainly are not making this an issues, especially since they are also owned by major media corporations. WOOD TV 8 is owned by Texas-based Nexstar Media Group Inc. and WZZM 13 is owned by Gannett.

It is difficult to fight these corporate conglomerate, but there are groups like the Free Press who do take up that fight. We also recommend that you seek out independent sources of news and information, particularly sources that were created by and led by marginalized communities, like communities of color, immigrants, queer & transgender communities and working class communities. Change the narrative!

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