By Miriam Raftery
April 4, 2018 (San Diego) – Free press advocates and some anchors at Sinclair Broadcast Group are raising objections to Orwellian scripts that Sinclair is forcing its news anchors nationwide to read, including scripts denouncing “false news” that “national media outlets are publishing.”
The issue had been reported on national media outlets including a chilling mashup by the sports site Deadspin showing over 30 Sinclair anchors reading the prepared script in unison. View it here: https://theconcourse.deadspin.com/how-americas-largest-local-tv-owner-turned-its-news-anc-1824233490.
Sinclair is owned by a family of wealthy Republican donors. The company already owns 193 stations in over 100 U.S. television markets. If the Trump administration approves its proposed merger with Tribune Media, Sinclair would own 230 stations with the ability to reach 70 percent of households across America.
During the 2016 campaign, Sinclair forced all of its stations to air, unedited, segments praising Donald Trump and criticizing Hillary Clinton, including broadcasts with views of Sinclair’s chief political analyst, former Trump campaign spokesman Boris Ephshteyn.
Since then it has forced stations to air pieces from former Trump advisors warning of a “deep state” effort to undermine Trump and other unsubstantiated claims.
Sinclair has issued a statement calling it “ironic” for critics to attack its messages on the media, claiming “Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”
Except that it didn’t, since its stations broadcast the media-bashing statements without disclosing that they were written by a former Trump spokesman now allied with Sinclair.
Free Press, an organization devoted to protecting media independence and exposing media bias, urges citizens to contact the FCC and ask it t block Sinclair from acquiring more stations to, in the words of Free Press, “spread propaganda and their reactionary political agenda.”
But blocking the merger seems unlikely, given Trump’s appointment of Ajit Pai to head the FCC. Pai has been rolling back rules that would previously have blocked one company from owning so many stations. Sinclair has hinted that it may, however, divest itself of some Tribune stations to win approval for its merger, and that divestiture could include selling Fox 5 in San Diego to Fox News. The station is currently owned by Tribune Media.
Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News anchorman, denounced Sinclair for forcing news anchors to read propaganda pieces. On Twitter, Rather posted, “News anchors looking into camera and reading a script handed down by a corporate overlord, words meant to obscure the truth not elucidate it, isn’t journalism. It’s propaganda. It’s Orwellian.” Rather calls the action, “A slippery slope to how despots wrest power, silence dissent, and oppress the masses.”
Some Sinclair journalists have voiced objections to being forced to read scripts bashing reputable media outlets. One said he felt “like a POW” while another revealed that Sinclair’s contract allows it to levy financial penalties on employees who quit early, making it difficult for journalists to resist participating in actions they view as unethical.
But President Trump defended Sinclair. On Twitter, he wrote, “Sinclair is far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC” and accused “fake news networks” of being “Worried about the competition and quality of Sinclair Broadcast.”