House Democrats Seek Own Sinclair Data Dump

Say end-of-year timetable for FCC decision on Tribune merger would be rushing it

More than four dozen Democratic House members have written Sinclair Broadcast Group president Chris Ripley asking for answers to more than a dozen questions related to the company's proposed Tribune Media merger and its impact on the public interest.

The Representatives also suggested the company commit to not raising retrans fees for its newly acquired stations.

The letter, which was mailed Wednesday evening (Nov. 1), according to a Hill staffer, comes as the FCC is about to restart its informal 180-day shot clock on the merger after pausing it to give the public more time to comment on Sinclair's response to the FCCC's second request for info on the deal.

Citing Ripley's confidence the deal would be approved by the FCC by year's end, the legislators suggested that timetable would be troubling given the deal's complexity, its "historic reach" and its "failure to comply with the FCC's media ownership rules."

Sinclair has said it would comply with all relevant FCC rules, though if FCC chair Ajit Pai's broadcast deregulation proposal is approved at the Nov. 16 meeting, as expected, those rules could change in Sinclair's favor.

Related: O'Rielly Says FCC's Media Dereg Moves Not Motivated by Sinclair-Tribune Merger

Given that the combined company would be the largest broadcast group, reaching 72% of the country--thanks to the Pai FCC's reinstatement of the UHF discount that counts only one-half of a UHF station's audience toward the 39% national audience cap--the Reps want some more info, including Sinclair's staffing plans post-merger, its programming philosophy, its national input on local stories and more.

The group also suggested Sinclair commit to not increasing the percentage of "must-run" national programming, to not charging more in retrans, and ask whether it has corresponded with FCC officials using non-government e-mail addresses of social media.

They asked for answers from the broadcaster by Nov. 10.

Many House Democrats, including some signatories to the letter, have accused Pai of favoring Sinclair in his recent media ownership dereg actions and proposals, including reinstating the UHF discount, scrapping the main studio rule, planning on approving the ATSC 3.0 transmission standard Sinclair has been backing, eliminating the small-market duopoly ban, and providing an avenue to owning two of the top four stations in a market.

Ripley told analysts on Sinclair's Nov. 1 earnings call that both the broadcast ownership dereg and ATSC rollout items were landmark decisions by an FCC that understood the need for broadcasters to have the flexibility to be more competitive in a marketplace that includes cable, satellite and the web.

Among those signing on to the letter were Reps. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.), Mike Doyle (Pa.), Bobby Rush (Ill.), John Lewis (Ga.) and Eliot Engel (N.Y.).