There was a time when broadcasters were limited in the number and location of broadcast properties they could own.
The government capped the number of local TV stations an entity could own because it feared what might happen if only a few entities controlled the media and, hence, the local news. It also prevented a single local broadcaster from operating properties that reached more than 39 percent of the national audience.
That ended last November when the FCC rescinded its local ownership rules at the urging of the National Association of Broadcasters, including one that had required local TV stations to have studios in their community of license.
A court challenge fizzled in February and Sinclair Broadcasting, a supporter of President Trump, was allowed to keep the local TV stations it purchased from Tribune Broadcasting.
How has that turned out?
TV anchors, who proudly call themselves “journalists,” have become mere puppets.
Deadspin says the news anchors have been instructed to read a Sinclair-written attack on the media:
The script, which parrots Donald Trump’s oft-declarations of developments negative to his presidency as “fake news,” brought upheaval to newsrooms already dismayed with Sinclair’s consistent interference to bring right-wing propaganda to local television broadcasts.
The net result of the company’s current mandate is dozens upon dozens of local news anchors looking like hostages in proof-of-life videos, trying their hardest to spit out words attacking the industry they’d chosen as a life vocation.
So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 2, 2018
It’s not like smart people didn’t see this coming.
“When the FCC eliminates the local studio rule, Sinclair – long known for requiring their stations to carry right-wing programs produced by headquarters – will have an open field to replace local voices with national control,” former FCC chair Tom Wheeler predicted last July.
And 14 years ago, Jay Rosen, the media critic and New York University professor, saw the strategy.
Sinclair, I came to see, wasn’t a normal media conglomerate in the making, not even in the Rupert Murdoch mold with forays into right-wing politics.
It was a kind of political force accumulating broadcast assets, intending to use them at strategic moments in order to keep growing, yes, but also to swell in influence, reputation, “voice.”
Between the last election and this one, Sinclair had developed the capacity to intervene in politics using its 62 local stations as loudspeakers for a message synthesized at the center.
“Some might say the system worked: Sinclair got the message, and retreated. I say the system jerked, and Sinclair realized how little there is to stop it,” Rosen said.
This email from a station news director is especially chilling: “Let me be absolutely clear here…These MUST Run. If they do not, my job is on the line. I don’t say that to scare you by any means but I do say this so you understand how serious (Sinclair) is about this project.”
— Ann Marie Lipinski (@AMLwhere) April 2, 2018
I worked for Sinclair during most of my time in El Paso. They were awful & I would never work for them again. What they’re doing now is ridiculous propaganda and it’s an embarrassment to the profession. I feel for my former colleagues being forced to read this garbage. https://t.co/hnqIU2EfW7
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) March 31, 2018
What Sinclair did here was horrid, but every local anchor who went along with this stunt should be deeply ashamed of themselves. https://t.co/b1uR4Deyaz
— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) March 31, 2018