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Wednesday, 04 April 2018 06:05

Sinclair Scandal Foreshadows the Danger of Growing Media Consolidation

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sinclairrevSinclair will not be televising the revolution. ( Fotos de Camisetas de SA)

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Sinclair Broadcast Group is the largest owner of local television news stations in the country. That is one reason that its mandate that news anchors read statements decrying so-called "fake news" -- in an effort to bolster Trump's trope -- has caused such a stir. It is not the first time that Sinclair has required stations to run packaged, biased content, and the stakes are high.

Allied Progress, a consumer advocacy organization, just issued a report that details the threat of Sinclair's effort to acquire the Tribune Broadcasting affiliates:

The Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice are currently reviewing Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media which would net the behemoth an additional 42 local TV news stations, including some in some of the country’s largest media markets. The deal would give Sinclair control of 233 stations, reaching a staggering 72% of U.S. households....

  • If the deal goes through, Sinclair will have historic influence over local television news. They will own or operate TWO or MORE local news stations in a staggering 52 markets.

  • Sinclair will also control 40-49.99% of all local news stations in 22 markets, 50-59.99% in 15 markets, and more than 60% in 5 markets, if the merger is approved....

  • If the Sinclair-Tribune merger is approved by the FCC, the company will be one step closer to fulfilling the dream of its chairman David Smith for “an instantaneous final consolidation of the industry.”

As Bill Moyers observed in 2017,

Columbia Journalism Review’s latest issue looks at the state of local news and the growing problem of local news deserts. Media consolidation has the effect of squelching local reporting in favor of syndicated reports. Mother Jones reported in 2014 that only 1 in 4 local TV stations actually produce their own content.

That takes place within the context that just six media companies own most of the major media influencers, as reported by WebpageFX and other media analysts. This ironically does not include Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is run by the family of company founder Julian Sinclair Smith. However, the growth of Sinclair into a behemoth of television news represents a trend that has been accelerating since Ronald Reagan's presidency: the centralization of media control, accompanied by the narrowing of the range of voices and perspectives offered in mainstream news outlets.

With the elimination of the fairness doctrine in 1987, the gates were opened for the kind of mandated local station propaganda on behalf of the Trump administration Sinclair is engaged in. As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reported back in 2005,

Sinclair’s history of one-sided editorializing and right-wing water-carrying, which long preceded its Stolen Honor ploy (Extra!, 11-12/04), puts it in the company of political talk radio, where right-wing opinion is the rule, locally and nationally. Together, they are part of a growing trend that sees movement conservatives and Republican partisans using the publicly owned airwaves as a political megaphone—one that goes largely unanswered by any regular opposing perspective. It’s an imbalance that begs for a remedy.

But with the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) controlled by a Trump acolyte, Ajit Pai, the situation will almost assuredly swing strongly in favor of the Sinclair-Tribune merger and media consolidation overall.

This is a gift to a media-savvy president, who runs the White House like a FOX-style cable news outlet combined with a reality TV show. One doesn't need to ponder too deeply to be aware of this. After all, this is the guy who is acting out on his staff the line most associated with his reality TV success: "You're fired!" Trump may be a bombastic, vulgar, superficial and destructive president, but he has an intuitive sense of how to attract the media and divert attention from specific actions of his administration through a combination of tweets, statements and playing footsie with friendly cable news networks. Meanwhile, he denigrates those stations -- such as CNN -- that he views as hostile to him.

Trump wrote several tweets in support of Sinclair, including this one:

Although many progressives may dismiss Trump's unrelenting charges of "fake news," at least one poll shows they are having an impact. An April 2 Politico article reports,

More than 3-in-4 of 803 American respondents, or 77 percent, said they believe that major traditional television and newspaper media outlets report “fake news,” according to a Monmouth University poll released Monday, marking a sharp increase in distrust of those news organizations from a year ago, when 63 percent registered concerns about the spread of misinformation.

Trump's "fake news" mantra is, unfortunately, effective. When Sinclair requires all its stations to declare en masse that other stations report "fake news," they are reinforcing Trump's campaign to discredit facts and critical reporting.

The media consolidation Sinclair represents is the legacy of the additional member of the family in most US homes: the television set. Since the 1950s, TV has become a major part of the way people in the US share pop culture, become docile consumers (as a result of commercials) and receive their news.

In 2016, according to the New York Times, Nielsen released a study that "that measured how we are consuming media these days (increasingly on devices we hold in our hands), and how much live TV we still watch (an average of more than five hours a day)."

That's a whole lot of television, including news broadcasts. Television is highly influential in conveying not just news, but a worldview. People watch news programs they trust, but choice becomes increasingly difficult when companies such as Sinclair control much of the market.

Trump has his finger on the importance of television and other media in shaping the mindsets of US voters. The likely Sinclair merger with the Tribune reminds us that FOX is not the only partisan television giant.