WASHINGTON — Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax, said that Tribune Media’s withdrawal from its acquisition by Sinclair Broadcast Group confirmed that Sinclair “failed to respect the regulatory review process and the rule of law, as it relates to market concentration and media ownership.”
Ruddy was among a handful of conservative news outlets that opposed the Sinclair transaction, but he was perhaps the most vocal and visible.
“When Newsmax began its opposition to this merger, we were told it was virtually “guaranteed” and could not be stopped,” Ruddy said in a statement. “I like taking on hopeless causes, especially when I believe the facts and good sense argue for such a cause.”
Ruddy also is a friend of President Donald Trump’s, and told the New York Post that he had discussed it with him.
The president, though, expressed dismay at the FCC’s decision to not approve the transaction and send it to an administrative judge, a move that would have added months and perhaps more than a year to the regulatory review process.
In a tweet, he said that Sinclair “would have been a great and much needed Conservative voice for and of the People.” Trump also is friends with Sinclair executives and its chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, is a former Trump adviser.
The merger looked to be on life support after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced last month that he had “serious concerns” about the transaction and, with the support of the FCC’s three other commissioners, sent the transaction to an administrative law judge for review.
The central issue: whether Sinclair misrepresented the nature of its plans to divest stations to meet media ownership requirements, and if it engaged in a “lack of candor.” The FCC suspected that three of the station sales — in Houston, Dallas and Chicago, were in fact “sham” transactions, in that Sinclair would still have control of the outlets. The company denies that it misled regulators.
Tribune Media backed out to the deal on Thursday, and also filed a $1 billion lawsuit against Sinclair, claiming that it engaged in belligerent and unnecessarily protracted negotiations” with DOJ and the FCC to obtain regulatory approval.
Ruddy noted that the opposition to the merger came from across the political spectrum.
“The FCC clearly listened to their concerns,” he said. “Chairman Ajit Pai and the Commission demonstrated their impartiality, independence and integrity by effectively rejecting the deal when it sent to for administrative review. They should be commended.”
A number of public interest groups took a victory lap for the demise of the merger, and some even suggested that the FCC should examine Sinclair’s broadcast licenses. The FCC said that Sinclair may have engaged in misrepresentations in the content of its merger documents, and wanted the administrative judge to review those claims. Sinclair has denied those accusations.
Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now a special adviser to Common Cause, said that “broadcasters are supposed to serve the needs of the communities where they operate. But Sinclair has shown its only interest is taking over as many local stations as possible to become a national network at the expense of local programming and diverse viewpoints.”
He predicted that Sinclair “will be back with more deals, as will other media giants. At a time when we need more independent and diverse voices in our media, we must all stay vigilant and engaged.”
The FCC is currently reviewing whether to raise or alter its ownership cap, in which station groups are limited to owning outlets that collectively reach no more than 39% of the country.
Public interest groups are opposing efforts to raise the cap, but Ruddy indicated he was open to such a move.
He urged the FCC to “set a new standard, one that allows broadcasters to compete against transformational media while protecting the concepts of localism, diversity and competition, especially as it relates to local news.”
The merger also drew opposition from some industry trade groups.
Matthew Polka, president of the American Cable Association, which represents smaller cable providers, credited the collective opposition for killing the deal.