It is time for the FCC’s administrative law judge to make a decision about whether or not to hold a hearing on the Sinclair Broadcast Group-Tribune Media deal.
That transaction has blown up, which is one argument for why the hearing should go away, too, since there are no longer any license transfers for the commission to consider. But the transaction was designated for hearing over underlying allegations that Sinclair misrepresented the deal to the FCC, a charge Sinclair strongly denies.
Those allegations do not go away with the cratering of the deal — Tribune filed suit against Sinclair, which countersued — and could provide fodder for license challenges to Sinclair stations at renewal time. So, if Sinclair did not misrepresent the deal, a hearing to clear its name would actually be a service to the company and buttress its defense of the Tribune suit. That’s because Tribune has said that Sinclair didn’t just misrepresent the deal, it also missed a golden opportunity to get it done by tweaking it after government officials registered concerns about market advertising concentration and spinning off stations to third parties with Sinclair connections.
While the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has signaled it is OK with dropping the hearing, judge Richard Sippel has yet to pull the plug.
A spokesperson in FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s office had no comment on the issue at press time, though the Enforcement Bureau’s advisory to the ALJ that it had no problems with not pursuing the matter suggests the chairman is OK with it, too.
Activists, though, can be counted on to keep raising the fact that a unanimous majority had enough issues with the deal and the allegations to ask the judge to look into them.
If there’s no there there, then it’s in Sinclair’s interest that the allegations be put to rest.