FCC Issues Hearing Designation Order for Tribune Media Company and Sinclair Broadcast Group

On June 28, 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media Company filed applications seeking to transfer control of Tribune subsidiaries to Sinclair. Sinclair and Tribune have amended their applications several times thereafter, in an attempt to bring the transaction into compliance with the Commission’s national television multiple ownership rule, as well as the public interest requirements of the Communications Act. Among these applications were three that, rather than transfer broadcast television licenses in Chicago, Dallas, and Houston directly to Sinclair, proposed to transfer these licenses to other entities. The record raises significant questions as to whether those proposed divestitures were in fact “sham” transactions....Although these three applications were withdrawn July 18, material questions remain because the real party-in-interest issue in this case includes a potential element of misrepresentation or lack of candor that may suggest granting other, related applications by the same party would not be in the public interest.

Given these issues and others described below, we are unable to find, based upon the record before us, that grant of the applications would be consistent with the public interest. Specifically, substantial and material questions of fact exist regarding whether: (1) Sinclair was the real party in interest to the sale of WGN-TV, KDAF (a Dallas station), and KIAH (a Houston station); (2) if so, whether Sinclair engaged in misrepresentation and/or lack of candor in its applications with the Commission; and (3) whether consummation of the overall transaction would be in the public interest, including whether it would comply with Section 73.3555 of the Commission’s rules, the broadcast ownership rules. Accordingly, in this Hearing Designation Order, we commence a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge to determine whether the above-captioned applications should be granted or denied. Given the seriousness of the issues presented, we direct the Media Bureau to hold in abeyance all other pending applications and amendments thereto related to the overall proposed Sinclair-Tribune transaction until the issues that are the subject of this Hearing Designation Order have been resolved with finality.

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