Sinclair Broadcast Group has been under a whirlwind of criticism after a video displaying numerous news anchors reading identical scripts went viral. The video, produced by the website Deadspin, shows these anchors warning the viewers about biased and fake news on social media and the media in general.
The script, which is delivered to every station as a “must-run” segment, read as follows: “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming is that some media outlets publish these same fake stories, stories that aren’t true, without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
The backlash is a result of the fact that Sinclair is the largest owner of local television stations nationwide, having 173 stations from coast to coast. Along with this, there is currently a proposed takeover of Tribune Media by Sinclair for $3.9 billion, which would give the news giant control of 42 additional stations that would result in the company broadcasting to 72 percent of the country.
In a statement from the company, Sinclair stated that its promos served no political agenda and aimed only to separate itself from unreliable media sources.
In an exchange with the New York Times, Vice President of News Scott Livingston stated, “We aren’t sure of the motivation for the criticism, but find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media, which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences. It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable.”
President Donald Trump came to Sinclair’s defense after the video went viral, tweeting, “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased. Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC, which is a total joke.”
Typically, news stations that have “must-run” segments do so for promotional purposes, but Sinclair is utilizing this to push conservative-leaning positions into its broadcasts. David Twedell, manager of a local camera workers’ union in Seattle, told the Washington Post, “the must-runs look like they are part of the news. And they’re clearly not.”
Critics are concerned by the bias from the company, given that the chairman, David Smith, son of founder Julian Sinclair Smith, have primarily made political donations to the Republican Party, along with a super PAC that supports Trump, according to the New York Times.
The takeover of Tribune Media by Sinclair will require federal approval, as the current Federal Communications Commission rules state that single station owners cannot reach more than 39 percent of television audiences nationally and prohibits the ownership of more than two stations in the television market. However, current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (who met with Sinclair executives a few days before he was announced as the chair) has been pushing for the deregulation of these ownership rules.
Alex Shakhazizian is a fourth-year student majoring in political science with a minor in journalism. ✉ AS823512@wcupa.edu.