Conservative media companies are fighting over who will be the next Fox News

Right-leaning Newsmax joins lefties in opposing Sinclair Broadcast Group being allowed to buy more TV stations

Published July 24, 2017 6:58PM (EDT)

 (Getty/vladakela/Joe Raedle/Salon)
(Getty/vladakela/Joe Raedle/Salon)

Newsmax Media, the operator of a popular conservative website and a fledgling rival to Fox News, is asking federal regulators to delay the Sinclair Broadcast Group's offer to purchase the local television company Tribune Media. In a new filing with the Federal Communications Commission, Newsmax argued that the Sinclair-Tribune merger would be unprecedented and deserved additional government scrutiny.

"This current transaction overturns more than three decades of bipartisan consensus and rulemaking, as well as Congressional intent, while raising serious competitive concerns," the company wrote in a formal letter to the FCC.

"I think the Sinclair merger with Tribune raises very serious concerns about competition and media diversity," Newsmax CEO and founder Chris Ruddy told Broadcasting and Cable, a television industry website which first reported on his company's opposition to the deal.

"President Trump himself warned about the 'concentration of media power.' The Commission and public need sufficient opportunity to carefully review this precedent-setting deal," Ruddy continued.

With a revenue stream based on advertising, newsletter subscriptions, and dietary supplements, Newsmax expanded into cable television in the hopes of leveraging its dedicated fan base of elderly Americans. The site also offers a printed weekly news magazine.

Newsmax joined the American Cable Association, Dish Network, and the liberal group Public Knowledge in asking the FCC to give extra time to evaluating whether the merger should be permitted. Last April, the agency voted to restore an arcane rule which allowed media companies to claim a "discount" on stations that broadcast over UHF which had been removed during the Obama administration by Democratic members.

Getting the "UHF discount" back in place was something that Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch had been seeking since it was removed. Murdoch's 21st Century Fox Inc. had also made a bid for Tribune but its offer price was too low for the local television company.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a private company owned by the family of its founder Julian Sinclair Smith, has recently come under intense scrutiny from liberal activists who claim the station company is biased toward Republicans. All Sinclair stations are required to run commentary segments which feature two conservative commentators, one of whom, Boris Epshteyn, is a former adviser to President Donald Trump. The company does not feature any left-leaning commentators in a similar fashion.

Sinclair has denied allegations of bias, insisting that its coverage is fair. In an internal memo to company employees which Politico reporter Hadas Gold published last week, Vice President of News Scott Livingston said that the commentary segments are clearly labeled as such and do not come anywhere close to offsetting the amount of time Sinclair gives to the views of left-leaning commentators like Whoopi Goldberg, George Stephanopoulos, and Stephen Colbert.

"Mark and Boris’ commentaries provide a viewpoint that often gets lost in the typical national broadcast media dialogue," Livingston wrote. "Boris Epshtyen worked in the Trump White House, a fact that Sinclair makes no effort to hide, and provides a unique insight that viewers can’t find anywhere else. The presence of former administrative personnel serving as news commentators is a well accepted practice in journalism."

Currently, Sinclair owns over 170 local television stations across the country, broadcasting to about 40 percent of American households.

Tribune Media owns 39 local stations. It also owns the basic cable channel WGN which media observers have speculated could become the foundation of a Sinclair competitor to Fox News. The company also owns a large stake in the Food Network.

By Matthew Sheffield

Matthew Sheffield is a national correspondent for The Young Turks. He is also the host of the podcast "Theory of Change." You can follow him on Twitter.

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