Sinclair gets FCC’s OK on transactions

Dec 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

In a mixed bag for Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Federal Communications Commission last week approved all but one of the company’s 15 TV station transactions that had been pending at the agency for almost four years.
However, the FCC also fined Sinclair and Glencairn Ltd. chief Eddie Edwards $40,000 apiece for running afoul of the agency’s ownership regulations.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/Push Coalition has long contended that Mr. Edwards was a front for Sinclair, giving the group broadcaster a second television voice in markets before the agency changed its duopoly rules to allow joint operations.
The FCC decision vindicated Rev. Jackson’s group, but the agency’s Republican majority refused to agree to stiff license-revocation penalties the watchdog groups had been seeking, essentially on the argument that any wrongdoing was inadvertent.
In the decision’s wake, Rainbow/Push and Sinclair were both said to be considering appeals. “We don’t agree with the fine or the finding,” Mr. Edwards said.
Said Mark Hyman, Sinclair vice president for corporate relations, “[The fine] is a face-saving gesture that they put in there because they couldn’t make a decision in four years that Judge Judy could have made before the first commercial.”
Said Andrew Schwartzman, president of the watchdog Media Access Project, “It’s disgraceful. This is the message from the FCC: `Go right ahead. We don’t care what you do. Just make it look good on paper.”’
Also critical of the decision was FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, the agency’s lone Democrat.
“With each transaction over the years, Sinclair has stretched the limits of the commission’s local television ownership rules,” Mr. Copps said.
In one of the more extraordinary twists in the case, Sinclair told a federal court earlier this year that the FCC was sitting on the applications to punish the group broadcaster for refusing to go along with a scheme by former FCC Chairman Bill Kennard to promote minority station ownership.
The way the deal worked, according to Sinclair: Mr. Kennard made clear during a meeting with Sinclair executives that the FCC would sit on deals that failed to promote minority ownership. In its own filing with the court, the FCC said only that Sinclair’s claims of bad faith on the FCC’s part were “unwarranted.”
In the wake of last week’s decision, Sinclair said it has already been programming the stations through time brokerage agreements and expects to close on the deals immediately. The deal will give Sinclair TV duopolies in 10 markets.
The stations Sinclair acquired are WB affiliate WCWB-TV, Pittsburgh; UPN affiliate WRDC-TV, Raleigh, N.C.; WB affiliate WVTV, Milwaukee; Fox affiliate WZTV-TV and UPN affiliate WUXP-TV, both in Nashville; WB affiliate KRRT-TV, San Antonio; Fox affiliate WUTV-TV and WB affiliate WNYO-TV, both in Buffalo, N.Y.; Fox affiliate KOKH-TV, Oklahoma City; ABC affiliate WXLV-TV and UPN affiliate WUPN-TV, both in Greensboro, N.C.; UPN affiliate WABMTV, Birmingham, Ala.; Fox affiliate WRLH-TV, Richmond, Va.; and Fox affiliate WMSN-TV, Madison, Wis.