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Cantwell, Murray call on FCC to investigate Sinclair and pause merger with Tribune

On Wednesday, Senators Maria Cantwell, Patty Murray and 10 other senators called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate the recent conduct of Sinclair Broadcast Group. In a letter addressed to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the senators claim Sinclair may have violated FCC policies by “deliberately distorting news” and asked the FCC to pause Sinclair’s pending merger with Tribune Media Company.

At the beginning of March, CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that Sinclair was directing its many local outlets to read an “anchor delivered journalistic responsibility message.” The message spoke about the rise in fake news and was described by Stelter as “a promotional campaign that sounds like Pro-Trump propaganda.” Then, earlier this month, Deadspin’s video featuring Sinclair anchors reading the message in unison quickly went viral.

The letter sent to Chairman Pai references these must-read messages. It states,

“We are concerned that Sinclair is engaged in a systematic news distortion operation that seeks to undermine freedom of the press and the robust localism and diversity of viewpoint that is the foundation of our national broadcasting laws…”

“Must-run dictates from Sinclair harm the freedom of the press guaranteed in the First Amendment by turning local journalists into mouthpieces for a corporate and political agenda. In the context of our strong commitment to the First Amendment, guarantees of free speech, and freedom of the press, we are troubled by such practices.”

The letter also claims that recent actions from the FCC have enabled Sinclair to reach more people and “expand the scope and scale of its news distortion operations.” Specifically, the letter references new media ownership rules that benefit Sinclair, the FCC Inspector General’s investigation into meetings between Sinclair, the Trump Administration, and Chairman Pai, as well as Trump’s tweets praising Sinclair while criticizing other media outlets.

The letter claims that Sinclair’s conduct should pause any acquisitions of new broadcast licenses and that the FCC should review the Sinclair-Tribune merger, opening it up to a new round of public comments.

According to the letter, Sinclair currently owns 193 stations in 89 markets. If Sinclair merges with Tribune, their reach would grow to 223 stations in 108 markets, which would cover 72 percent of US households.

Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Edward Markey (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) joined the Washington Senators in signing the letter.

Update: Thursday afternoon, FCC Chairman Pai rejected the senators’ request