The American Cable Association is trying to force the FCC's hand on its assertion that there were material issues with Sinclair's presentation of the Tribune deal that need resolving.
Citing potential misrepresentation and lack of candor, the FCC voted unanimously to refer the deal to its Administrative Law Judge for an evidentiary hearing on those allegations, but after the deal was withdrawn the FCC signaled it would be OK if the hearing did not go forward, and there has been no action out of the ALJ's office since mid-summer.
FCC chair Ajit Pai proposed referring the deal to the ALJ, citing the allegations, which Sinclair flatly denied, including that Sinclair had not represented that some TV station spin-offs could have left Sinclair in effective control of some of those stations--deal critics had said the spin-offs were shams. Sinclair said the relationships between it and any potential buyers had been fully disclosed.
The FCC could also independently have the Media Bureau look into the allegations independent of a renewal proceeding, but that has not happened either.
But in a petition filed with the FCC, the American Cable Association has asked it to require Sinclair to file early renewal applications for a few of its stations, which would be a way for the FCC to "resolve the serious charges it leveled against Sinclair as soon as possible -- charges that, if true, would speak to Sinclair's eligibility to retain any of its FCC licenses or acquire new licenses," ACA president Matt Polka said of the filing.
ACA wants early renewals for WJLA Washington; WBFF Baltimore; WSET Lynchburg, Va.; and WTVZ Norfolk, Va. The first Sinclair renewals for any stations don't come due until 2020, ACA pointed out, which it suggests is too long to leave the issue hanging.
Getting the issue resolved could also benefit Sinclair if it did nothing wrong, since the allegations continue to hang over the company.
"Misrepresentation and lack of candor rank among the most serious violations a licensee can commit," ACA said. "A party that engages in such conduct can be found to lack the basic character qualifications to hold any FCC licenses. Yet the charges levied against Sinclair have never been resolved because Sinclair itself withdrew its application, and the administrative law judge has yet to take up the designation..."
It added: "[I]t would harm Sinclair should the Commission ultimately conclude otherwise by leaving a cloud of uncertainty over the company."
But whether it clears or damns Sinclair, ACA wants the FCC to act. "Sinclair will, one way or the other, have to answer for its alleged conduct," it said. "We believe that all parties, including Sinclair itself, should want to begin that process as soon as possible."
The Benton Foundation sent a letter to the FCC in support of ACA's petition."The FCC ruled that there are substantial and material questions as to whether Sinclair is qualified to be a broadcast licensee," it told the commission. "There is only one way to resolve these questions in a transparent manner that allows public participation: a hearing on the renewal of Sinclair’s broadcast television licenses."