The FCC said late Wednesday (July 18) that the Sinclair-Tribune hearing designation order (HDO) has been unanimously approved and will be released Thursday.
The order designates the proposed merger for a hearing before an administrative law judge because of issues FCC chair Ajit Pai and FCC staff had with some of the station spin-offs, specifically those Sinclair had planned to sell to third parties with ties to Sinclair investors or execs.
It already had three votes, with only Commissioner Michael O'Rielly yet to weigh in. He said he planned to as long as there were some assurances about how the hearing would be conducted and how long it would take -- he has had issues with the ALJ/hearing process.
In announcing the order, Pai had said: "The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law."
Sinclair Wednesday said it was rescinding those sales, with two of the stations--KDAF-TV Dallas and KIAH Houston -- going into a trust until a buyer the FCC approved of could be found, and the third, Tribune's WGN-TV Chicago, Sinclair said it had decided to keep.
But the the order as initially drafted also talked about potential "lack of candor" and "misrepresentation" on the part of Sinclair, according to a source who had seen it -- Sinclair strongly denies both -- which could mean that even repairing the spin-off concerns might not head off a hearing if the issue was how Sinclair represented the deal rather than the deal itself.
It was not clear at press time whether or how the language may have changed.
“Today, the FCC took a powerful stand against collectivism and corporatism by opposing the proposed merger by the Sinclair Broadcast Group," said Citizens for the Republic, a conservative PAC founded by Ronald Reagan. "While we have nothing but respect for the Sinclair team and their commitment to hard news and journalistic integrity, the proposed acquisition struck at the heart of some of our most cherished values as conservatives.” “FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, despite a hail of criticism from both sides of the political aisle, stood against the concentration of media and protected our right to free and independent news. We applaud him, as well as the entire FCC, for proving that government is beholden, not to corporations, but the people.”