FCC throws Sinclair/Tribune deal in doubt

Sinclair Broadcast Group

In a stunning move, the Federal Communications Commission appears to have put the kibosh on the controversial sale of “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN-Channel 9, news/talk WGN 720-AM and the other 41 Tribune Media stations to Sinclair Broadcast Group.

FCC chairman Ajit Pat said Monday he has “serious concerns” about the $3.9 billion merger, which would have created the country’s largest television station monopoly.

Ajit Pai

“Based on a thorough review of the record, I have serious concerns about the Sinclair/Tribune transaction,” Pai said in a statement posted on Twitter. “The evidence we’ve received suggests that certain station divestitures that have been proposed to the FCC would allow Sinclair to control those stations in practice, even if not in name, in violation of the law.

“When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction. Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of these disputes issues. For these reasons, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would designate issues involving certain proposed divestitures for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.”

Pai apparently objected to Sinclair’s plans to divest 21 Tribune Media stations — including Chicago’s WGN — but retain control over programming and advertising through shared services agreements with third parties connected to Sinclair.

Tribune Media representatives did not respond to requests for comment.