Free Press, ACA, Rainbow PUSH Target Sinclair/Allbritton Transfers

Ask FCC to Block or Condition Deal, Hold Evidentiary Hearing, and More

At press time, Free Press, the American Cable Association, and Rainbow PUSH had filed petitions to deny all or part of the Sinclair/Allbritton station deal, according to the FCC docket.

ACA is targeting all the stations, Free Press the four involved in sharing agreements, and Rainbow Push a single station, but is seeking a decision that would have impact on all the others.

In filings with the FCC Friday, the groups took aim at the spin-offs required by FCC local ownership rules. They argue those spin-offs are in name only and allow Sinclair to continue to control the stations.

In July, Sinclair announced it had struck a $985 million deal to buy Allbritton's seven ABC affiliates, including the ABC station in the Nation's Capital.

Sinclair said it would have to sell four stations in three markets to comply with FCC rules, but would "provide sales and other non-programming support services to each of these stations pursuant to customary shared services and joint sales agreements." The FCC does not currently count such agreements against local ownership caps, though it has pondered doing so.

Free Press targeted only the four spin-off stations, while ACA petitioned to deny the entire transfer, or absent put conditions on the deal that would prevent any of the stations to coordinate retransmission consent agreements, in particular between any of the owned stations and spin-off stations with which Sinclair plans to strike shared services agreements.

Free Press wants the full commission--not the Media Bureau--to have to decide whether Sinclair gets the stations, and to conclude that the sale of those four stations should be denied.

ACA says the shared services agreements should invalidate the entire deal because by their very nature they are not in the public interest. "Sinclair’s intention to negotiate retransmission consent for multiple ostensibly separately owned competing stations in a single DMA violates fundamental principles of competition and thus warrants denial of the Applications."

Free Press only targets the stations involved in the sharing, but says that those "subvert the purposes of the Commission’s rules and subordinate the interests of local communities to the private interests of Sinclair. As such, the Commission should not approve the license transfers subject to this Petition to Deny."

Rainbow PUSH, the Jesse Jackson-founded diversity advocacy group, is only targeting the transfer of WJLA-TV, which does not involve a sharing agremement, but it wants the FCC to determine as part of its inquiry whether shared services and sales agreements in the deal are legal, and if so, serve the public interest. It wants the FCC to hold an evidentiary hearing on whether Sinclair is fit to be the licensee of WJLA, and in the meantime to freeze action on any of the other transfers in the deal pending that determination.