Sinclair Giving Up 3 Stations To Appease FCC
Sinclair Broadcast Group on Thursday announced that it was surrendering its licenses for three stations in Charleston, S.C., and Birmingham, Ala., having failed to find a buyer for them.
Sinclair said it was making the move to win speedy FCC approval of its deal to buy Allbritton Communications. That deal could unravel if the approval doesn't come by July 28.
The three stations — WCIV Charleston and WCFT-WJSU Birmingham — are now owned by Allbritton.
Sinclair's original intention was to operate the three stations through sidecar companies and joint and shared services agreements.
But those plans were dashed when the FCC earlier this year cracked down on the use of JSAs and SSAs to circumvent local ownership rules in markets as small as Charleston (DMA 95) and Birmingham (DMA 45).
The three stations are ABC affiliates. But Sinclair is not giving up the ABC affiliations. Instead, it told the FCC, it will move the stations' ABC programming along with synidcation and news programming to multicast channels of the MNT affiliates Sinclair owns in Birmingham and Charleston -- WABM and WMMP, respectively.
Sinclair General Counsel Barry Faber told TVNewsCheck that Sinclair decided to use WABM and WMMP as the ABC outlets because their broadcast facilities are better than those of the Allbritton stations.
The two Republican FCC commissioners — Ajit Pai and Michael O'Reilly — seized upon the announcement to scold the Democratic majority for its JSA-SSA action, saying that it confirmed their warning that the action would lead to less diversity, not more as intended.
"This will mean job losses, less service to South Carolinians and Alabamians, and less ownership diversity," they said. "We do not see how such an outcome possibly serves the public interest, and we hope that the commission will take action immediately to correct its misguided restrictions on JSAs."