It's Official: Pro-Trump News Broadcaster's Mega Merger is Dead
In a victory for free and independent journalism, Tribune Media said on Thursday that it is pulling out of its $3.9 billion merger with Sinclair Broadcast Group, putting the final nail in the coffin of a deal that had seemed inevitable when it was first announced in May of last year.
According to Axios, Tribune is also filing a lawsuit against Sinclair, alleging breach of contract.
Sinclair, a Maryland-based company which is the largest owner of local news stations in the U.S., is notorious for its right-wing, pro-Trump slant, and its unusual system of distributing slanted "must-run" content to its local stations to work into their broadcasts.
Reporters at stations owned by Sinclair — which include nearly 200 local affiliate news channels across the country branded as ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and more — have been forced to run segments that attack Democratic politicians, discredit the FBI's investigation of Russia, call other media outlets "false news", and even run a regular commentary show by a former Trump adviser.
Leaving no doubt in anyone's mind whose tank they are in, Trump himself has endorsed Sinclair, calling it "far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC."
Had the merger with Tribune Media been approved, Sinclair would have completely dominated the local news market. By one estimate, the combined company would have owned stations in nearly 3 out of 4 U.S. households, controlling an enormous amount of the content Americans see on local stations.
Approval of the merger was widely considered inevitable because Trump's FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is notoriously anti-regulation and pro-merger, and had rolled back ownership rules for broadcast media companies last year in a manner that seemingly paved the way for the deal.
In a surprise move in July, however, Pai said he had "serious concerns" and suggested Sinclair was trying to conceal anticompetitive practices in its proposed purchase and divestiture of certain stations. The FCC moved to refer parts of the deal for review by an administrative law judge, effectively leaving it on life support.
With the Tribune merger dead for good, Sinclair will look for other ways to acquire new stations. But for now, a potentially catastrophic change to media markets has been scuttled. And those who value the free press can breathe a little more easily.