Lots of coverage, in the New York Times, the Columbia Journalism Review and elsewhere, of the script that Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of television stations in the U.S., made local television news anchors read on air last month.
Sinclair, the largest owner of television stations in the U.S., owns KATV, Channel 7, in Little Rock. It also has plans, pending federal approval, to acquire KFSM-5 in Fort Smith and KXNW-34 in Eureka Springs, as well as WREG, a Memphis station with Arkansas coverage*. In all, Sinclair local news broadcasts reach more than 2 million American households.
Several readers have said they've seen the script read on KATV, and as you can see above, one of the YouTube compilations mocking the repetition of the script features KATV's Chris May reading it. It's a cornball speech echoing the familiar Trump complaint that "some media outlets publish...fake stories." Viewers would have no idea that it was not local commentary, but a missive distributed nationwide by Sinclair, the right-leaning broadcasting behemoth.
Here's the kicker: "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 a democracy."
Ahem. As this blog has covered extensively, Sinclair has long produced "must-run" video segments that station managers are required to include in local broadcasts. These segments tend to look more like right-wing propaganda than news (and again, it's not always clear that such segments are not locally produced). Forcing local anchors to pretend to offer commentary, numbly reading a script like hostages in a Fox News funhouse, is especially creepy. There are various YouTube compilations mocking the identical scripted segments delivered by dozens of anchors across the country, forced to play apparatchik for Sinclair.
CNN also unearthed further instructions from Sinclair for local affiliates on the mandated segments reading the script:
Talent should dress in jewel tones — however they should not look political in their dress or attire. Avoid total red, blue and purples dresses and suits. Avoid totally red, blue and purple ties, the goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional. Black or charcoal suits for men...females should wear yellow, gold, magenta, cyan, but avoid red, blue or purple.
Although the speech ends by asking for feedback "if you believe our coverage is unfair," CNN reports that Sinclair's instructions to local affiliates state that "corporate will monitor the comments and send replies to your audience on your behalf." Yikes. So much for local engagement.
John Oliver, who has covered the Sinclair propaganda machine before, covered the latest shenanigans on his show last night (I'm unable to embed the video, but you can watch here). “That statement is creepy enough, but when you see just how many local stations were forced to read it and you watch them together…you begin to realize the true effect of Sinclair’s reach and power," Oliver commented. "Nothing says we value independent media like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over again like members of a brainwashed cult."
Here's more on Sinclair from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Maryland-based Sinclair owns 193 stations across more than 100 U.S. markets. That number would rise to 233 if the Federal Communications Commission approves its acquisition of Tribune Media.
The FCC has emphasized Sinclair-friendly deregulation during the Trump presidency, with Chairman Ajit Pai helping to ease the rules on owning multiple TV and radio stations in the same market.
Sinclair was fined $13.3 million by the FCC in December for running over 1,700 commercials designed to look like news broadcasts without properly identifying them as paid content on its stations over a six-month period.
That fine was perceived as a "slap on the wrist," by Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who accused Pai and the two other Republican members of the commission of cutting Pro-Trump Sinclair a break by not issuing the maximum allowable fine of $82 million, three percent of Sinclair's annual sales.
* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that Sinclair already owned KFSM-5, KXNW-34, and WREG. In fact, those stations are still owned by Tribune Media; Sinclair has filed an application to acquire the company with the Federal Communications Commission. The earlier post also stated that KXNW-34 was a Fort Smith station; while its studio is headquartered in Fort Smith, its Community of Licence is for Eureka Springs.