Chairman of Sinclair Broadcasting Group David Smith defended his company’s practice of forcing local stations into broadcasting “must-run” promotional content by comparing the segments to scripted news coverage, The New York Times reported.
“You can’t be serious!” Smith wrote in an email to the Times Tuesday, when asked about the backlash over Deadspin’s viral and Orwellian compilation video, which showed local anchors across the country denouncing “fake stories” in unison. “Do you understand that as a practical matter every word that comes out of the mouths of network news people is scripted and approved by someone?” Smith asked a Times reporter by email.
Sinclair reportedly regularly mandates that local news anchors read scripted, company-sponsored content on the air. It also requires local stations to run a daily “Terrorism Alert Desk” segment as well as right-leaning commentary from pundits including Boris Epshteyn, a former spokesperson for President Donald Trump. A recent segment that was the subject of the viral Deadspin video and prompted widespread criticism, featured local anchors discouraging viewers from reading “fake” and “one-sided” stories, echoing a major talking point of the Trump administration.
But Smith told the Times that the perception that his company is trying to force right-leaning messages on local viewers is “nonsense,” calling the promotional segments “standard practice in the industry.”
“Not that you would print it, but do you understand that every local TV station is required to ‘must run’ from its network their content, and they don’t own me,” he wrote in an email to the Times on Tuesday. “That would be all their news programming and other shows such as late-night talk, which is just late-night political so-called comedy.”
At the center of the criticism that Sinclair has faced for the obligatory scripted content lies concern over the company’s $3.9 billion proposed merger with Tribune Media. The Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission are both reviewing the merger to determine whether it’s in the public interest.
Sinclair is already the largest broadcasting company in the U.S. and a merger with Tribune would give Sinclair a voice in 72 percent of American households, significantly expanding the reach of the promotional content.