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Tribune backs out of Sinclair merger

09 August 2018

Tribune pointed to the same problems that the FCC found in Sinclair's proposal to divest some stations in order to stay under federal ownership limits.

"Our merger can not be completed within an acceptable timeframe, if ever", Tribune CEO Peter Kern said in a statement.

Sinclair Broadcast Group wanted the Chicago company's 42 TV stations and had initially agreed to dump nearly two dozen of its own to score approval by the FCC.

Sinclair initially announced plans to buy the media conglomerate fifteen months ago.

The FCC said Sinclair did not "fully disclose facts" about the planned sale of three stations, including pre-existing business relationships between the company and prospective buyers. Sinclair also refused to sell certain stations that would have helped the deal secure regulatory approval, Tribune claims.

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Tribune called off the sale of 42 TV stations to the Sinclair and sued the company for breach of contract, saying in a release that the broadcaster hurt the deal by engaging in "unnecessarily aggressive and protracted negotiations with the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission over regulatory requirements".

Sinclair, one of the nation's largest owners of TV stations, has become a significant outlet for conservative perspectives. Tribune is seeking an amount "including but not limited to approximately $1 billion of lost premium to Tribune's stockholders and additional damages in an amount to be proven at trial".

Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that has been critical of the FCC under Pai, has been against a tie up between Sinclair and Tribune from the start.

Sinclair did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.

By filing a lawsuit against Sinclair, Kern said, Tribune intends to "hold Sinclair accountable".

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Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley said Wednesday that Sinclair was working with Tribune to save the merger.

If no divestitures were made, "the combined company would reach 72 percent of United States television households and would own and operate the largest number of broadcast television stations of any station group", the FCC notes.

But constructing deals in such a way that would allow the company to maintain control or re-purchase them wasn't what Tribune had in mind. Here, the WGN Radio sign appears on the side of Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago. Sinclair defended the script as a way to distinguish its news shows from unreliable stories on social media.

The announcement brings an end to a merger that was thought to have a staunch champion in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, whose tenure had been marked by a deregulatory agenda that had cleared out restrictions against consolidation in the media industry.

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Tribune backs out of Sinclair merger