Columns, Opinion

Burke’s Bully Pulpit: Sinclair and its attack on unbiased journalism

According to a 2017 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, only 38 percent of Americans trust the news media.

Between polarizing figures on primetime network television and online writers who always seem to be taking a jab at someone, some Americans just don’t know who to trust.

Enter: Sinclair Broadcasting Group, a powerful broadcast company that President Trump called “far superior to CNN and even more Fake NBC,” in a tweet shared on April 2.

Whenever I see Trump endorsing something on Twitter, I start to get skeptical. This skepticism is often warranted, but sometimes it turns out to be a genuine appreciation for a company or person. But this is not the case with Sinclair.

The company has been around since 1971 and has recently been focusing on expanding their empire across the United States. This was evident in a recent meeting with a top Federal Communications Commission official.

Sinclair’s chairman, David Smith, and current CEO Christopher Ripley invited now-infamous FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to a meeting to discuss deregulating the broadcast industry right before Trump’s inauguration in 2017, according to The New York Times.

Smith called this meeting to ask Pai to approve Sinclair’s expansion of their empire without violating FCC regulations. Pai would soon become the chairman of the FCC and began to lift regulations across the communication industry, with Sinclair poised to benefit.

Sinclair, until this point, had really done nothing wrong. There is an argument to be made that Sinclair executives were teetering an ethical line by meeting with the future chairman of the federal operation that decides how powerful they can be, but that is neither here nor there.

What is truly scary is what Sinclair does with its immense power. A video put together by Timothy Burke at Deadspin showed many Sinclair-owned stations giving the same exact ominous message about fake news and other media outlets.

I saw the video on Twitter and was puzzled. At first, I thought it was a message from left-wing media companies assuring the public that local news would never change, as it would always be unbiased. I watched it again and realized that the message was the exact opposite of what I originally thought.

Having another network like Fox News isn’t what this country needs. We don’t need another

network like CNN, either. We need networks that will be committed to giving their viewers the truth — even when it doesn’t align with the executives’ political ideology.

In another bit of unsettling news, the Department of Justice is now very close to approving a multi-billion-dollar deal to acquire Tribune Media. This would give Sinclair an 72 percent household reach, more than doubling their current audience.

Everyone in power at Sinclair will rise to the top, thanks to decisions made in the early days of the Trump presidency.

There were no signs of Sinclair expanding before January 2017 because the FCC wasn’t led by a Republican. With Trump appointing Pai to chairman of the FCC, one can guess that the company’s power will be unmatched. Trump now has a platform to influence what gets played on a local level, which will surely help him if he tries to run for re-election in 2020.

Recently, Sinclair has forced more stations to run a “Bottom Line with Boris” segment at least nine times a week. Boris Epshteyn was a communications official under Trump until March of 2017.

I feel bad for the hard-working journalists at stations that Sinclair is preparing to take over. Their media credibility will be questioned, and it isn’t their fault. America isn’t very fond of journalists now, so this is the last thing that the news industry needs.

Sinclair has a responsibility to be bipartisan in their reporting. It’s supposed to cater to local issues because that’s what affects their viewers the most. But history says that they won’t be bipartisan, so the more people who are aware of what this future media monster is capable of, the better.

Believe it or not, this isn’t a story about being a Democrat or being a Republican. It’s about wanting to have unbiased and factually accurate stories that informs citizens the most. With a total Sinclair takeover, more Americans will be lost to a thought process that clouds their ability to learn about daily life. Facts are facts, and they should never be confused with opinions.

Our president is doing what he said he was going to do: run America like a business. He’s letting companies expand to great lengths thanks to looser regulations, and that’s not always a bad thing.

But Sinclair is different. It will soon have the ability to alter the public’s reality. By pushing biased news on the local front, people will have very few places left to go for honest and truthful journalism.

 






More than half of Americans do not trust news stations to give them unbiased and factually accurate reports.

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