FCC Throws a Legal Wrench in Sinclair Merger

The conservative broadcaster now needs to get a judge’s approval for its mega-merger to go forward.

Sinclair's merger with Tribune Media will now face judicial review.Sipa USA/ Ap Images

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, announced on Monday that the organization would vote to allow an administrative judge to review proposed action to allow for Sinclair Broadcasting Group to finalize a $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media. The chairman, who previously championed the measure, cited “serious concerns” about the merger, which could allow Sinclair to control stations “in violation of the law.” If the merger goes through, Sinclair, an unabashedly pro-President Trump network that mixes conservative programming alongside local news, would own local TV stations reaching a large majority of the country.

“When the FCC confronts disputed issues like these, the Communications Act does not allow it to approve a transaction,” Pai said in a statement to the press. “Instead, the law requires the FCC to designate the transaction for a hearing in order to get to the bottom of those disputed issues. For these reasons, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would designate issues involving certain proposed divestitures for a hearing in front of an administrative law judge.”

The Sinclair merger has long been a concern of Democrats during the FCC’s new push to deregulate broadcasters. In November, the Republican-lead agency voted 3-5 along party lines to eliminate other regulations for local media ownership, including rules that blocked a media company from owning both a daily newspaper and a TV station. A final vote to eliminate the current ownership caps for broadcasters, which was rumored to happen this summer, would have cleared the way for Sinclair to complete a $3.9 billion merger with Tribune Media. If the merger is approved, the pro-Trump broadcaster would reach 72 percent of American homes

Today’s announcement is a surprising one for Pai, who is currently the subject of an investigation by the FCC’s investigator general over whether or not Pai improperly pushed for a merger that would benefit Sinclair.  



In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones, a special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.