A Fox affiliate station in Baltimore, owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, released a news story on “retransmission consent.” It’s part of a campaign including ads falsely claiming “free TV” is in jeopardy. The story was a one-sided defense of the retransmission consent using numerous quotes from the National Association of Broadcasters and one from the American Television Alliance. It’s unsurprising broadcasters would pass self-serving content as “news.” They’re desperate to save the billions they charge for the “free” TV they claim to defend.
Here’s what’s even more telling: the broadcasters defended the importance of “local” news by running the same story nationwide. Indeed, the report being run on Sinclair stations illustrates how local TV news is far from local.
Sinclair is the largest TV group in the country. It owns and operates over 160 stations that reach 40% of American households. Sinclair gobbles up local TV stations and slashes jobs. The average number of employees at Sinclair stations has declined 20% since 2001. Last year Sinclair bought stations in Seattle and Portland, then fired 30 workers. (Yesterday, the FCC approved Sinclair’s purchase of eight more stations from Allbritton for nearly $1 billion…Sinclair’s march toward owning every local TV station in America continues.)
Sinclair also consolidates newsrooms in cities where it owns more than one station. Look at their list of news departments. In nearly all Sinclair’s markets with multiple outlets, the same news director manages the news operations of both.
Sinclair is not alone. All major TV groups scoop up local stations in pursuit of retransmission consent dollars. This has killed ownership and perspective diversity. Today, one out of two TV stations shows local news. A quarter of the stations that do get it from somewhere else.
With its attack on pay-TV, Sinclair illustrates the problem. Local news doesn’t focus on local issues. Why didn’t these stations run their own stories? Why repeat the same piece over and over?
Some stations couldn’t even repeat it correctly. This version on UpNorthLive.com, the website for the ABC/NBC duopoly in Traverse City, Michigan, attributed a quote from NAB to ATVA and vice versa. With duopolies, you get twice the errors!
Some stations eliminated ATVA’s quotes from the print version altogether, such as WHAM, the Rochester ABC affiliate, and WPDE, the Fox affiliate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. There’s not even an illusion of objectivity.
The absurdity is all too real. In the same breath, broadcasters claim they deserve to be paid for TV they also claim is “free.” They say this pays for local news, even though they’re running the same story nationwide. It’s time to eliminate retransmission consent, and give viewers the content they deserve.