The Department of Justice may be ready as early as Friday (Jan. 26), or early next week, to OK the Sinclair-Tribune deal, with station divestitures that resolve competition issues, according to someone familiar with the deal process.
Sinclair announced last year it was buying Tribune's 42 TV stations (or as many as the government would let it keep) for $3.9 billion. Before the deal, Sinclair already owned 193 TV stations.
One veteran communications attorney said they were expecting the DOJ sign-off "anytime" and that that had been what was holding up the FCC's review. The FCC had stopped the clock on its public interest vetting of the deal three weeks ago, citing Sinclair's signal that it would be adjusting the divestitures--as it worked with Justice on a deal.
Sinclair has indicated it was waiting for Justice's decision before it presented those new divestitures and amendments to the FCC.
The Justice decision is "well overdue" said the attorney, who has been closely following the deal's progress.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai has been getting pushback from deal critics for media ownership reforms that ease the way for the deal, including reinstating the UHF discount, which allows Sinclair, or any other broadcaster, to only count half a UHF station's audience toward the 39% limit on national audience reach, and loosening other local ownership regulations which could allow Sinclair to keep more of the stations.
The chairman has signaled the FCC's review of Sinclair has been by the book. He has long espoused a deregulatory philosophy that included loosening or eliminating local ownership rules so that broadcasters could be more competitive against a phalanx of new competitors with national reach, including over-the-top providers.