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FCC requests additional information on Sinclair Broadcast deal to acquire Tribune Media

Federal regulators are asking Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. to show how it plans to comply with TV station ownership limits after it completes its proposed $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media Co.

The Federal Communications Commission said it needs that and other information to determine whether it is in the public interest to approve the deal, which would create the nation’s largest broadcaster.

Approval of the acquisition has appeared likely because the FCC recently relaxed rules for broadcast station ownership and the political climate currently favors deregulation.

But the proposal has generated a broad base of opposition from groups such as Dish Network LLC, the American Cable Association, Free Press, Public Knowledge and Common Cause have asked the FCC to turn down Sinclair’s petition.

Hunt Valley-based Sinclair, which grew out of WBFF Fox 45 in Baltimore, announced plans in May to buy Tribune, which would give it 233 television stations that reach 72 percent of U.S. households.

Under rules revised in April, stations that broadcast on high-frequency UHF airwaves can count only half their audience against a national ownership cap. The cap permits ownership of stations that reach no more than 39 percent of the nation’s television households. Sinclair has said that without selling off some stations after the merger it would have a 45.5 percent audience reach.

The FCC is requesting a list of stations that Sinclair would sell or is marketing for sale, both across the portfolio as well as in 10 markets where Sinclair and Tribune both own full-power commercial television broadcast stations. A single company cannot own two full power stations in a single market under FCC rules.

Last month, Sinclair fired back at critics of the Tribune acquisition, saying the deal will create scale and efficiencies that will ensure the future of free-over-the-air television.

The government also wants more information on Sinclair’s plans for local programming, local newscasts and local sports at Tribune stations.

The FCC asked how Sinclair “plans to reinvest the additional revenues generated by any predicted greater audience reach and how such reinvestment will improve service to the public.”

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lmirabella

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