Sinclair Broadcasting, a group of TV stations that heavily lean conservative, will expand into a majority of American homes, thanks to Trump’s pick to head the Federal Communications Commission.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai revived a loophole, which was closed by the Obama administration, that will allow Sinclair to buy another group of TV stations and greatly exceed regulations on how many media outlets any one company can own.
Sinclair, the nation’s largest TV broadcaster, is known for inserting “must-run” conservative segments into local programming, which clearly favored Trump in the 2016 election. It currently owns 107 stations covering 38 percent of American homes. Its plans to buy Tribune Broadcasting Group would add 42 stations and expand its reach to 72 percent of American households.
The loophole is known as the “UHF discount,” a relic from the era in which TV was accessed by antennas and any channel higher than 13 tended to be owned by lower-budget stations with poor reception. UHF stations were not counted in the same proportion as VHF when calculating market share.
The issue, critics say, is that former VHF and UHF stations now appear on the same digital streams. In many markets, local stations only broadcast in digital, not analog.
Tom Wheeler, the Obama-era FCC chairman who closed the loophole last year, decried the measure. “Congress was explicit in black letter saying 39 percent viewership would be the maximum. There was funny math created to allow the count to come up to still be below 39 percent, wink wink.”
In December, the Washington Post reported that Sinclair “gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump during the campaign” while airing negative stories on Hillary Clinton. Sinclair Broadcasting has donated heavily to Republican causes and has inserted itself into presidential elections before: In 2004, Sinclair planned to air a documentary critical of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s Vietnam military service. When controversy erupted, the company ultimately ran a news program instead of the documentary on some of its stations.