Allegations that Sinclair Broadcast Group was less than candid or misled the FCC about its deal to buy Tribune Media continue to hang in the air, but with a unanimous signal from the regulator that the allegations were serious and needed adjudicating by an independent party.
At press time, the FCC administrative law judge charged with reviewing the allegations had not closed the investigation. His office had not returned repeated calls for comment and the FCC chairman’s office had received no signal the case was closed.
But the FCC hearing designation order also established a timeline that should have resulted in the publication of a hearing scheduling order weeks ago, an order that at press time had not appeared.
After Sinclair withdrew the deal, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau informed Judge Richard Sippel’s office that it was OK with the bureau if Sippel canceled the hearing, as Sinclair had requested, since there were no longer any TV station licenses being transferred.
But a unanimous FCC referred the deal to Sippel over what the order suggested were credible allegations that Sinclair misrepresented the deal and was not entirely candid with the commission — primarily that it, rather than the stations it was ostensibly spinning off to comply with FCC ownership limits, was the real “party in interest,” retaining control of the stations spun off to third parties with connections to Sinclair.
That issue goes to fitness to be a licensee, so not resolving it leaves a regulatory overhang that could be used by Sinclair’s critics. There are many of those, including some in Congress, who could raise it as a character issue when the company’s TV station licenses periodically come up for renewal.