The Sin Behind Sinclair

Here's the Thing - Commentary by Jaci Clement, Fair Media Council

The sin behind Sinclair isn’t what’s garnering headlines, which is that anchors at nearly 200 television stations across the country were ordered to read the same script.

The root of the problem is that Sinclair owns that many stations, which is what enables the mass-produced, singular point of view to be espoused to its viewing audience, which comprises more than 70 percent of the country.

Once upon a time, the FCC frowned against such consolidation, and had ownership caps in place, to ensure such things didn’t happen. But that’s ancient history, and times have changed. Those ownership caps were raised for several reasons — including the concept that unless weaker stations were bought up by larger, stronger companies, the weaklings would cease to exist. Those who did the math figured out the ownership cap was raised to accommodate all the outlets that had bought up other outlets, in violation of cap standards, through the waiver process. In short: The raised cap simply legalized current market conditions.

And now, we find ourselves living in an era with an FCC committed to eliminating the cap entirely.

Isn’t the real story here that Sinclair is bringing to life the worst nightmares of media advocates and ethicists everywhere? What’s playing out across the country is exactly what a historical laissez-faire minded FCC pooh-poohed as a nonsensical concern. Yet here it is, in HD, to boot.

Sinclair isn’t the only organization to do such a thing, but it is perhaps the most visible and unapologetic in its approach. In the not-so-obvious file was this personal experience: When the FCC was considering raising the ownership cap, all Tribune-owned newspapers were told to run an editorial in support of the action. (The same editorial, by the way.) I had written a letter to the editor in opposition to that point of view. My letter was rejected, with a brief explanation: Tribune was not allowing letters with opposing points of view on that particular subject.

Whatever happened to the marketplace of ideas?

Perhaps the good news in all of this is today’s media sins are becoming so blatantly obvious, but in the end, this situation places a greater burden on our society to actively seek out news and information from a variety of sources.

And perhaps, more than anything else, the FCC needs to be reshaped, from a back-water arena of what amounts to little more than patronage jobs, to one that understands the true merits and concerns of ensuring a responsible, viable American media. At the very least, it needs to rethink its strategy, as well as its rulebook. The natural law enables the strong to survive, at the expense of the weak, not alongside it.

– Jaci Clement, jaci@fairmediacouncil.org

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