The country’s largest owner of TV stations is responding to criticism over its mandate for local news anchors to read a promotional script that some say contains a controversial political message. David Smith, executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, defended the videos to The New York Times, calling such segments “standard practice in the industry.”
The company runs local news stations that reach around four out of 10 U.S. homes and is currently trying to acquire Tribune Media stations, which would boost its reach to about 72 percent of American households, reports CBS News’ Paula Reid. Thirty Sinclair-owned stations are CBS affiliates.
In a now-viral video published by Deadspin, multiple anchors from Sinclair news stations read from the same script denouncing so-called “false news.” The video seems to echo President Trump’s criticism of news coverage and has many, including the president, talking and tweeting.
The owners of Sinclair Broadcast Group have donated thousands to Republican causes, including a super PAC supporting Mr. Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
Last year, the company hired former Trump White House staff member Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst. Sinclair stations are required to carry Epshteyn’s segments – including one where he defends his role.
“Wouldn’t you want somebody talking to you about politics, only if he had actually worked in politics?” Epshteyn said.
On Twitter, President Trump called Sinclair “far superior” to other media companies and mocked those who “criticize Sinclair for being biased.”
His comments raise questions about White House impartiality, as the Justice Department and the FCC review Sinclair’s attempted acquisition of Tribune Media.
“This merger’s gonna go through,” SAID Andrew Schwartzman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “We’re going to wind up with a handful of large companies owning much of the broadcasting industry with much less diversity and much less localism.”
This issue is similar to AT&T’s efforts to acquire Time Warner. The president has often bashed Time Warner’s property CNN and his own Justice Department wants to block that deal, but the judge overseeing the merger hasn’t allowed the president’s influence to be examined in the trial.