Maryland attorney general joins opposition to Tribune-Sinclair merger

Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has joined attorneys general in Illinois, Massachusetts and Rhode Island in opposing Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.’s proposed takeover of Tribune Media Co., a $3.9 billion deal that would create the nation’s largest television broadcast company.

Frosh filed comments Friday with the Federal Communications Commission saying the combination would decrease consumer choices and diversity in the media marketplace.

Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, has said the move would bring efficiencies and ensure the future of free over-the-air television. The company said it would invest in local stations and bring more local programming, though officials have not said which stations it would sell to comply with national ownership limits.

Through the merger, Sinclair would own or operate more than 200 stations nationwide with the ability to reach more than 70 percent of U.S. households, Frosh said. He said the proposal also relies on outdated methods of calculating national audience reach that doesn’t account for modern technology and understates that reach by 50 percent.

The attorneys general asked the FCC to at least delay merger consideration until a District of Columbia Circuit Court completes a rule on the calculation method.

“This proposed merger will raise the cost of cable television for consumers, and it will reduce their programming choices at the same time,” said Frosh said in a statement. “It is a bad deal for Marylanders.”

Relaxed broadcast ownership rules at the FCC under the administration of Pres. Donald Trump have made the approval of the merger appear likely. The regulatory agency had extended the public comment period by two weeks, ending Wednesday. The U.S. Department of Justice also is reviewing the proposed deal and is expected to complete that by the end of the year.

Cable companies and consumer groups also have opposed the deal between Sinclair and Tribune Media, formed in 2014 when the Tribune Co., then the parent of The Baltimore Sun, split its broadcast and publishing divisions. The TV stations became Tribune Media while the newspapers became Tribune Publishing, later renamed tronc.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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