One of the growing fears in journalism is the expansion of news as a business. As corporations scoop up newspapers and stations, some wonder how news media can remain a nonpartisan source dedicated to informing the public.
In the past month, worries about corporate control of the media were given credence when reports came out that Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the largest media companies in the country, sent out a “must-read” script to its stations.
This went largely unnoticed until Deadspin released a video of local news anchors from numerous Sinclair stations reading the script to their audiences. In the video, the anchors recite the same script, aside from the location, word for word about the dangers of bias in the media.
The video splices the clips into an eerie montage of anchors criticizing the “national” media for pushing “biased or fake news” with one voice. After a few sentences the tape would jump to a new anchor reciting the next part of the script, before overlaying all their voices over each other.
One by one they express some concerns such as: “some media outlets publish these same fake stories…stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first.”
The anchors also claimed that “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.”
There are a couple reasons these claims are worrying.
One is the unsubstantiated claims that their colleagues in the media are publishing fake news, pushing their biases or trying to control how people think.
The stations made these allegations in the attempt to differentiate themselves as a source of truth and quality news. Unfortunately, the anchors provide no facts or examples of these supposed fake news stories.
Without any evidence, their claims come across as a tactic to discredit their rivals by fanning the flames of fake news. In an era where public trust of the media is at an all-time low, this is an especially short-sighted and selfish tactic to sway the audience in their favor.
This is alarming, considering the size of the Sinclair Broadcast Group.
For those who don’t know, the Sinclair Broadcast Group is the largest owner of television stations in the United States. With 172 stations under its ownership, the company controls about forty percent of the market.
That means that Sinclair’s size gives them the ability to push this narrative to a large portion of their audience.
Sinclair is set to increase its already impressive influence with their potential purchase of Tribune Media, which would bring dozens of news stations under their control. The merger will increase the number of stations to over 200.
This means that the group would be able to reach more than 70 percent of households.
With Sinclair positioning themselves as the only honest source of news, this increase of influence is truly scary. It risks creating an audience that is distrustful of any news sources but the ones broadcast by Sinclair-owned stations.
Along with the fears of Sinclair’s influence and message is the claims of unfair treatment. Federal law forbids any broadcast provider from reaching more than 40 percent of households.
However, the Federal Communications Commission has done little to slow down the merger, and has made exceptions for Sinclair. Some have claimed that this is sign of favoritism toward the company, which has been more sympathetic to President Trump and conservative views.
While the FCC seems to be working to create loopholes for Sinclair it has actively worked against the merger of AT&T and Time Warner Cable.
While many have been critical of this merger, eyebrows were raised when the FCC asked Time Warner to sell off CNN, one of the stations that has been critical of Trump and his administration.
According to a source to CNN it seems like this is a direct result of the company’s coverage.
“The only reason you would divest CNN would be to kowtow to the president because he doesn’t like the coverage,” the source said. “It would send a chilling message to every news organization in the country.”
Overall, this creates an uncomfortable image of Sinclair gaining influence, while pushing a narrative that harms journalism as a whole. More discomforting is the fact that no one seems to be interested in stopping them.
The unfortunate thing about all this is that the script speaking out against fake news is not necessarily a bad thing. The public should be more aware of how to spot fake news and be more aware of it.
However, accusing rival news sources of bias comes across as fear mongering rather than a service to the community.
The most disturbing thing about Sinclair’s growth is the single vision being sculpted by the company. As it absorbs more and more outlets, it drowns out conflicting views and values for their own.
In observing this trend, it’s easy to see why federal law tried to prevent one company from gaining so much influence. Rather than aid Sinclair, the FCC should be enforcing its own laws and maintaining the integrity of the airwaves.