A group of 12 senators is calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting for “deliberately distorting news by staging, slanting, or falsifying information.”
The letter comes after a wave of stories about “must-read scripts” given to Sinclair anchors across the country.
“We’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media,” one script read.
“More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first,” it went on. “Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”
The promos are part of pattern of Sinclair-mandated, right-wing propaganda. Its broadcasting features daily alarmist “terrorism reports” and pro-Trump and conservative opinion segments packaged as news reports from former Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn and former Sinclair Vice President Mark Hyman.
That pattern is what is so concerning to the group of senators, referring to themselves as “strong defenders of the First Amendment,” who wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Wednesday.
NEW: 12 senators are calling on the FCC to investigate Sinclair Broadcasting for “deliberately distorting news" and engaging in a "systematic news distortion operation that seeks to undermine freedom of the press." pic.twitter.com/jdCvl2xZRG
— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) April 12, 2018
The letter also spells out how the Trump administration has favored Sinclair over the last 18 months, including implementing media ownership rule changes that directly benefit Sinclair. Trump himself has praised Sinclair’s work, while attacking other outlets, and a proposed Sinclair merger with Tribune is currently pending at the FCC.
The senators also called for that proposed merger to be put on hold, writing, “Because of the new facts that have come to light with regard to Sinclair’s misconduct and abuse of the public trust pertaining to its existing broadcasting licenses, we believe it is appropriate to pause the pending Sinclair-Tribune merger review and reopen the agency record on the transaction so that the FCC can receive another full round of robust public comments.”
If the merger goes through, the senators wrote, they are concerned that it will only serve to more widely broadcast Sinclair’s propaganda. Sinclair currently owns 193 stations in 89 markets; if the merger is approved, Sinclair would own 223 stations in 108 markets, including 39 of the top 50 markets.
“More generally,” the letter went on, “these new facts about how Sinclair operates its stations suggest that it may not be complying with the public interest obligations inherent in holding broadcast licenses. An affirmative finding could disqualify Sinclair from holding its existing licenses and should disqualify it from acquiring additional licenses.”
All 12 senators who signed the letter are Democrats.