Over the weekend, Deadspin released a spooky video of dozens of local news anchors reading identical scripts denouncing “the sharing of biased and false news,” as “dangerous to our democracy.”
The puppetmaster behind the blast? The US’s largest broadcaster, Sinclair Broadcast Group — owner of 193 TV stations across the country.
Now, critics are calling into question the controlling tactics of the group and its use of local public figures’ influence to secretly push their agenda.
The national biz of local buzz
Sinclair owns local stations in 89 markets ranging from large cities like Washington, DC, to Kirksville, Missouri, including affiliates of major networks like ABC, and its own network, Comet TV.
They’re also in the process of getting approval from the Justice Department and the FCC for a $3.9B takeover of Tribune Media, which would add 42 stations to their repertoire and make Sinclair far and away the largest TV operator in America.
Aren’t there rules against this kind of thing?
Well, there were. But, last fall, the FCC eliminated an 80-plus-year-old rule designed to limit the national influence over local broadcasts. Known as the “main studio rule,” it required broadcasters to have a physical studio in or near the area that they transmit from.
The FCC argues that social media gives communities new channels to give feedback to their local broadcasters remotely.
But some fear it could open the door for large media companies to continue to eat up local stations, while centralizing jobs in a few metropolitan areas, and limit the diversity of opinions on the air.
How do the news anchors feel about all this?
Unsurprisingly, not so great. Past producers and anchors at Sinclair-owned stations complain of the company’s practice of “must-run” segments coming down from the top, which made them uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, Sinclair-employed anchors have their own anchors to deal with: their contracts. According to Bloomberg, some employees are required to pay “liquidated damages” for leaving before their contract is up, which can run as high as 40% of their annual salaries.
In other words, they’re not giving up the remote control anytime soon.