House Dems Want Hearing on Sinclair/Tribune Deal

Hearing unlikely, signals committee source

Some leading Democratic members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee have called on the Republican leadership of the committee and Communications Subcommittee to look into the proposed $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune by Sinclair Broadcasting.

That is unlikely to happen. A spokesperson for the majority had no comment, but a source said that the committee has a long history of not holding hearings on mergers, which is usually more the province of the Senate Commerce Committee.

"The Sinclair-Tribune transaction comes as a direct result of the decision in April by the FCC to reinstate the so-called "UHF discount," they wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by B&C. "The Republican FCC majority reinstated the UHF discount despite a previous finding that it was obsolete in the digital era. Its revival only serves as a loophole in the media ownership rules that opens the door to a wave of broadcast consolidation, as evidenced by this transaction."

Signing on to the letter were Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA.), former chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and E&C and Communications subcommittee member Doris Matsui, also a California Democrat.

Sinclair is already among the largest TV station holders, but Tribune gives it an ever larger footprint in major markets.

"We believe the American people deserve to hear about the effect of this transaction and Chairman Pai's plans for loosening media ownership rules.

Pai acknowledges that the UHF discount is an artifact of the pre-DTV days when analog UHF signals were inferior to VHF--their positions are now reversed. But he has also said the discount should not have been lifted--as it was against his dissent by the FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler--without also looking at raising the 39% ownership cap.