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Sinclair Broadcast Group

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The Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (SBG) is a media company and the single largest operator of 57 local television stations in the United States. According to the company's webpage, Sinclair's television group includes 19 FOX, 17 My Network TV, 8 CW, 8 ABC, 2 CBS, 1 NBC affiliates and reaches approximately 24 percent of all U.S. television households. [1] The company is based in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

SBG has been compared to the radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications, and programming produced by the group is considered to have a right-wing slant. For example, in April 2004, the company refused to broadcast a special "Nightline" broadcast, produced by the ABC television network, that was devoted to reading the names of soldiers who had died in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In contrast, SBG directed its stations to air an anti-Kerry program ahead of the 2004 Presidential election. Protests against the directive and the film resulted in a more balanced news program being aired.

Concerns about SBG's conservative bias has led to anti-Sinclair campaigns, including a boycott against advertisers and the ongoing "SinclairAction.com" campaign (see "Activism against Sinclair," below).

Armstrong Williams fines

On October 18, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced its intention to fine Sinclair $36,000, for broadcasts of the political / public affairs show "America's Black Forum" (ABF), where payola pundit Armstrong Williams had appeared. Williams had received payments from the U.S. Department of Education, through the PR firm Ketchum, to promote the Bush administration's "No Child Left Behind" policy. The proposed fine was $4,000 for each of the nine Sinclair stations that had aired the ABF episode "2004 Election Countdown," during which Armstrong Williams discussed NCLB.

The Sinclair stations hadn't been paid to air the program, and hadn't been notified that Williams was being paid by the government. But the FCC faulted them for airing a political program without disclosing that it had been provided by an outside source. "Broadcast stations must identify the sponsor of any materials or services furnished for use in connection with 'any particular broadcast matter or any broadcast matter involving the discussion of a controversial issue of public importance,'" stated the FCC notice of apparent liability. [1]

On December 11, 2007, Sinclair filed an appeal to the proposed fine. "[T]he FCC accused a number of Sinclair stations of failing to comply with disclosure rules regarding political announcements as a result of the broadcast by these stations of an episode of the nationally syndicated, public affairs program 'America's Black Forum'," stated a Sinclair press release. However, it continued, "the FCC mistakenly assumed that Mr. Williams was the producer or owner of the program. In fact, however, Mr. Williams was simply a paid political commentator on a program that was produced by Uniworld Group, Inc., an unrelated company owned by the African American entrepreneur Byron Lewis, Sr." [2]

Cutting back on news

Sinclair "is scaling back its News Central operation ... opting to seek out news share arrangements," reports Katy Bachman. "Beginning March 31, Sinclair will no longer feed live, anchored prime-time newscasts to its stations," though it will continue to provide some content and support "to the 20 of its 58 stations that produce local news." A statement from Sinclair explained, "Because the costs to produce high quality local news are so significant, moving to a news sharing partnership with a strong network affiliated station can provide an effective means to bring additional news coverage to the market." Bachman notes that under the new arrangement, "news operations are expected to close down at four of Sinclair's WB stations in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Tampa and Raleigh." [2] [3] Sinclair news director Joe DeFeo said, "Our local news staff at our WB stations should take pride in the solid and professional newscasts they produced."

Kerry film controversy

The order to local stations

Sinclair gained further notoriety by ordering its 62 local stations to preempt prime time programming to broadcast an anti-Kerry film just before the November 2, 2004 general election. Those 62 stations include affiliates of all six major commercial broadcast networks in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania. [4] Initial plans to air the film, according to the Los Angeles Times, included "a panel discussion, which Kerry will be asked to join, thus potentially satisfying fairness regulations." [5]

The film

According to the Washington Post, the film "focuses on Kerry's antiwar testimony to Congress in 1971 and its effect on American POWs in Vietnam." [6] Titled "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," the film is produced by Carlton Sherwood, a former associate of Tom Ridge, and includes interviews with former POWs who say their Vietnamese captors used Kerry's comments to undercut prisoner morale. The anti-Kerry organization, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, cross-promoted the film as part of a $1.4 million advertising campaign. [7]

Responses

Sinclair's order to broadcast the film prompted criticism from Jon Leiberman, Sinclair's lead political reporter. "It's biased political propaganda, with clear intentions to sway this election," Leiberman said. "I have nothing to gain here -- and really, I have a lot to lose," he said. "At the end of the day, though, all you really have is your credibility." [8] Leiberman was fired within a few hours of making those comments. [9]

In a later commentary column, Leiberman explained that when he was promoted to start Sinclair’s Washington bureau he discovered the pressure to supply pro-administration news. "It started with the politically charged commentaries of Mark Hyman, in nearly every newscast. Then newsroom leaders (at the encouragement of Hyman) started suggesting pro-administration story ideas. They made sure that every political story had a comment from the Bush administration, and went out of their way to get it. But they didn't always balance the stories with the Democratic response," he wrote in Broadcasting and Cable. [10]

When SBG first flagged that it would broadcast Stolen Honour Leiberman, while not happy about it, felt it could be tolerated if it was broadcast as commentary or an opinion. But he drew the line when SBG decided it would be screened as "news", a classification that would preclude the Kerry campaign from having equal time to respond.

Leiberman protested and while others shared his concerns the fear of being sacked left him being isolated. "When I told them I couldn't do it, and that it wasn't news, and that it would hurt everyone's reputation, nobody else stood up with me. But though I was the only one in that room speaking up, I looked around me and I didn't feel alone," he wrote.

The Democratic National Committee filed a legal motion with the Federal Election Commission stating that it is inappropriate for Sinclair to air "partisan propaganda" in the last 10 days of an election campaign. [11] On October 15, Marc E. Elias, General Counsel of the Kerry-Edwards campaign, sent to a letter to Sinclair CEO David D. Smith in which Elias noted the DNC complaint that the broadcast would be "illegal corporate-funded 'electioneering communication,'" and concluded, "This program constitutes an attack on Senator Kerry by supporters of President Bush." [12]

However, the Federal Communications Commission indicated that it would do nothing to prevent Sinclair's broadcast of the anti-Kerry film. Eighteen Democratic senators wrote FCC chair Michael Powell asking him to investigate whether the broadcast should be allowed under FCC rules. Powell told CNN "Don't look to us to block the airing of a program." [13]

The Boston Globe criticized the FCC stance, noting in an October 15, 2004 editorial, "Broadcasting 'Stolen Honor' this close to the election would have violated the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC rule that mandated stations, as holders of scarce broadcasting licences, provide balanced coverage of political issues." However, "The FCC abolished the rule in 1987." [14]

Reed Hunt, the FCC chair from 1993 to 1997 under President Clinton, wrote, "Chairman Powell instead pretends that he has been asked to bar the showing of the propaganda -- which no one has asked him to do. His remarks are so far off the point, and he is so intelligent, that one must conclude that he knows what he is doing and intends the result -- tacit and plain encouragement of the use of the Sinclair airwaves to pursue a smear campaign. No broadcast group in the history of America has ever committed an hour to smearing a presidential candidate, and no FCC chairman before this one would have reacted with equanimity to this radical step down in broadcasting ethics."[15]

A Lehman Brothers Equity Research analyst report dated October 15, 2004 called Sinclair's plans to air the anti-Kerry film "potentially damaging -- both financially and politically." As quoted by journalist Joshua Micah Marshall, the analyst report continued, "In a best case scenario, we believe that this decision could result in lost ad revenues. In a worst case scenario, we believe the decision may lead to higher political risk. As mgmt has increased the co's political risk, we are reducing our 12-month price target to $9 (from $10)." [16]

On October 5th 2005, Carlton Sherwood, said he was suing Senator John Kerry and a one-time campaign saying the two defamed him as they sought to block the broadcast Sherwood's suit alleges that Kerry directed the Democratic National Committee to issue a statement that said the film was produced and funded by "extreme right-wing activists." Sherwood claims the film was funded only by Vietnam veterans from Pennsylvania. [17]

The "Holocaust deniers" comparison

On October 12, 2004, Sinclair vice president Mark Hyman was interviewed by CNN's Bill Hemmer. In that interview, the following exchange occurred:

HEMMER: Democrats say this is illegal. Clearly, you do not. Why not?
HYMAN: Well, a couple of issues. First of all, we haven't even looked at a 90-minute program. But if John Kerry wants to spend 45 minutes or an hour with us, maybe we have a 90-minute program. Again, no formal format has been decided upon.
However, the accusations coming from Terry McAuliffe and others, is it because they are some elements of this that may reflect poorly on John Kerry? That it's somehow an in-kind contribution of George Bush?
If you use that logic and reasoning, that means every car bomb in Iraq would be an in-kind contribution to John Kerry. Weak job performance ratings that came out last month would have been an in- kind contribution to John Kerry. And that's just nonsense.
This is news. I can't change the fact that these people decided to come forward today. The networks had this opportunity over a month ago to speak with these people. They chose to suppress them. They chose to ignore them. They are acting like Holocaust deniers, pretending these men don't exist. [18]

Hyman's comparison of Democrats to Holocaust deniers has been widely condemned. Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote a public letter to the Washington Post, urging Hyman to retract his comments. [19]

Damage control

Although the Washington Post reports that "Stolen Honor" was released in early September, SBG's webpage at the time stated, "The program has not been videotaped and the exact format of this unscripted event has not been finalized. Characterizations regarding the content are premature and are based on ill-informed sources." [20]

Ultimately, Sinclair "backed down after the publicity led to threats of an advertising boycott, complaints from Democratic politicians and threats of shareholder action. On Oct. 22, Sinclair aired what many analysts called a largely balanced news program about Kerry on about 40 stations," reported the Los Angeles Times. [21]

While Sincliar retreated two attorneys at the Brennan Center for Justice, Marjorie Heins and Adam H. Morse, argued in an article in Legal Times that the case illustrated major problems with media regulation. While requiring broadcasters to offer a right of reply "is a necessary, if imperfect, remedy for biased reporting" the real challenge was breaking up the media conglomerates.[22]

A solution, they proposed, was to "include more full-power and low-power broadcast licenses for independent, community-based, nonprofit media, as well as access rules that require commercial broadcasters to share some of their valuable air time with local nonprofits."

They also argued that access to the airwaves would be insufficient without funding support as well. "Funding mechanisms are also crucial to build up the nonprofit media sector so that it can begin to redress the current imbalance between commercial and nonprofit broadcasting, and disseminate alternative political and cultural views," they wrote.

Currying favor with Republicans?

USA Today wrote that Sinclair might be currying favor with President Bush and other Republicans because the company "needs the federal government to relax several media ownership restrictions." [23]

"Sinclair is barely profitable and laden with debt," reported USA Today. "It had a net profit of $14 million on revenue of $739 million in 2003." One route to greater profitability would be for Sinclair to solidify "its hold on local markets by controlling, for example, two stations in more cities and sharing operating and news-gathering costs." But, for that to happen, the FCC rules need to change "to permit a company to own two or more stations in more communities than allowed now"; "to ease a restriction that bars a company from owning TV stations reaching more than 35% of all homes, and to lift the rule that keeps companies from owning newspapers and TV stations in most markets." [24]

Since Bush and his FCC chair Michael Powell have "made media deregulation a priority," while Kerry and other Democrats promised during the 2004 campaign to "clamp down on changes that promote consolidation," Sinclair might hope that its support of Republican candidates would "pay off" with further media deregulation. [25]

Sinclair's apparent preference for Republicans is also mirrored in their campaign contributions. "Of the top twenty TV and Radio companies to make political contributions in 2004," reported MediaChannel, Sinclair "is among the most conservative, giving 98 percent of its $65,434 in political contributions to GOP candidates." [26]

Activism against Sinclair

Boycotting advertisers

In response to the Kerry film controversy, several websites called for a boycott, to pressure companies to pull their advertising from Sinclair stations, including:

The Daily Kos political blog and the associated dKosopedia wiki also supported the boycott, including by publishing advertiser responses to citizen complaints. [27] According to AlterNet's Don Hazen wrote on October 18, 2004, "The rapidly growing, aggressive advertising boycott effort has already had a measurable financial impact on Sinclair, whose stock dropped 10 percent over the past week, closing on Friday at an all-time low of $7.04 - a $60 million loss in value." [28] However, some businesses (including Hannaford's supermarkets) reportedly reversed their decision to pull advertising on Sinclair stations, after pressure from the media company.

Journalist Joshua Micah Marshall posted comments from a reader of his "Talking Points Memo" blog, in support of a boycott. "I've worked in the media business for 30 years and I guarantee you that sales is what these local TV stations are all about," the person wrote. "They don't care about license renewal or overwhelming public outrage. They care about sales only, so only local advertisers can affect their decisions." [29]

Challenging local licenses

"Sinclair's license renewals for six stations in North and South Carolina are being challenged by the nonprofit group Free Press," reported the Los Angeles Times. [30] Free Press filed their petition with the FCC on November 1, 2004, calling Sinclair "the poster child for abuse of the public airwaves." [31]

In their media release on the petition, the organization wrote, "Free Press alleges that Sinclair, working in concert with Cunningham Broadcasting, is operating illegal duopolies (two commonly owned and controlled stations in the same market) in Asheville and in Charleston. Free Press accuses Cunningham of being a sham owner that has relinquished complete economic and editorial control of its stations to Sinclair. ... Free Press further alleges that Sinclair ignores its obligations to provide programming that serves the interests of local communities. Sinclair has fired local news staffs and consolidated 'local news' operations into its headquarters in Baltimore, MD under the name 'News Central.' Free Press claims this practice increases the profits of Sinclair at the expense of depriving each of the communities of genuine local news and coverage of community events." [32]

In response SBG dismissed the complaint and called on the FCC to sanction Free Press for what it claimed was an "abuse of process".

"It is absurd that Sinclair and the FCC must waste valuable resources responding to such a frivolous pleading, and the Commission should send a signal that it will not tolerate such conduct," the News & Observer reported SBG wrote in a document filed with the FCC. [33] Free Press dismissed the claim as "ridiculous".

SBG also defended its centralised news system stating that there are "no FCC regulations prohibiting centralized operations". Free Press argues that the FCC requirement is that broadcasters serve the needs of the local community.

SinclairAction.com

In December 2004, a coalition of liberal groups, led by Media Matters for America and also including MoveOn, MediaChannel.org, Free Press, Working Assets, AlterNet, the Institute for America's Future and movie director Robert Greenwald launched a new anti-Sinclair campaign, with a website at SinclairAction.com. The campaign charged the company with "misusing public airwaves with partisan news programming." [34]

The campaign includes letters to Sinclair advertisers and the company itself, but does not involve a boycott. A major focus of the campaign is Sinclair's nightly commentary, called "The Point." Sinclair spokesman and lobbyist Mark Hyman records "The Point" commentaries, which air on "about 40 of the 62 stations that Sinclair owns, programs or manages, reaching about one-fourth of U.S. homes with televisions." [35]

An analysis of "The Point" from November 2 to December 1, 2004, conducted by Media Matters, "found that the commentaries repeatedly attacked former Democratic candidate John F. Kerry, former President Clinton and other Democratic politicians. Hyman has referred to Democrats as the 'Angry Left,' charged that there is a liberal bias in the media and expressed support for Bush administration policies." The SinclairAction.com campaign is pressuring Sinclair "to allow rebuttals to 'The Point' or even add another commentary with a more liberal point of view." [36]

Hyman said he was "amused" by the campaign, and asked why, "in a 160-hour programming week," critics would focus on "my comments, which run one or two minutes long on a daily basis for a total of 10 to 15 minutes a week." Hyman also pointed out that the word "commentary" flashes on the screen during "The Point" segments. "We go out of our way to make sure people know it's purely opinion," he said. Hyman added, "I think the fact that they don't talk about our news portion of our newscasts suggests that they're satisfied that the newscasts are honest, balanced and impartial. I certainly think they are." [37]

A frequent criticism of Mark Hyman's 'commentaries' is that he does not allow counter-commentaries as balance. Even though he invites listener comment, rebuttals are not aired during his commentary segment. In July or 2004, Ted Remington, a University of Iowa Rhetoric professor created a website called 'CounterPoint (http://thecounterpoint.blogspot.com/) to provide daily rebuttals to Mark Hymanb's commentaries. As of April, 2005, over 80 rebuttal articles have been posted. Ted Remington's commentary apparently caught the attention of Mark Hyman because on the February 16, 2005 edition of 'The Point', Mr Hyman smeared Prof. Remington with charges that the professor approved of plagarism by quoting some words from a university online rhetoric course that Prof Remington co-taught out of context. (http://mediamatters.org/items/200502180002)

Company history and marketing focus

The company originated in 1971 when Julian Sinclair Smith brought UHF station WBFF-TV in Baltimore, Maryland. After acquiring several existing UHF stations, Julian Sinclair Smith's four sons founded Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. in 1986. The Smith family controls over 95% of the stock in the Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. Smith family members who sit on the board of directors include David D. Smith, President and CEO, Frederick G. Smith, Vice President, and J. Duncan Smith, Vice President and Secretary.

The Sinclair Broadcast group owns and operates, programs, or provides sales and services to more than 62 media outlets. Many stations are owned outright by the company, but many others are affiliated through local marketing agreements, or LMAs. The stations are affiliates of various television networks: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CW, and the MyNetwork TV. Two of the stations are independents. Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. owns television stations in key Swing States such as Florida (WTTA - Tampa, WTWC - Tallahassee, FL), Missouri (KDNL - St. Louis, MO), Ohio (WTTE & WSYX - Columbus, OH, WKEF & WRGT - Dayton, OH), Minnesota (WUCW - Minneapolis, MN), and Wisconsin (WMSN - Madison, WI).

SBG has experimented with using a centralized news organization called "NewsCentral" that provides pre-packaged news segments for distribution to several of the group's stations. These segments are integrated into programming during local news broadcasts. Mark Hyman, a high-ranking executive at SBG, also creates editorial segments called "the Point" that are broadcast on all of the group's stations.

On April 9, 1999 shares of the company fell nearly 18% after Fox said it would cut the amount of commercial time available to affiliates. Sinclair said this move would hurt its cash flow. New York Times, April 9, 1999.

In July of 1999, the company sold 43 of its radio stations to Entercom Communications in a push to expand into digital television and the internet (New York Times, July 28, 1999).

See also Sinclair Broadcast Group/Media markets and advertisers.

Company structure

Fiscal information

In 2003 SBG, listed in the NASDAQ index, had revenue of $738.7 million and had 3,266 employees according to its Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Officers

  • David D. Smith - Chief Executive Officer, President, Chairman of the Board
  • David B. Amy - Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer
  • Darren Shipiro - Vice President, Sales
  • Nat S. Ostroff - Vice President, Technical
  • Donald H. Thompson - Vice President, Human Resources
  • J. Duncan Smith - Vice President, Secretary
  • Thomas I. Waters III - Vice President, Purchasing
  • Barry Faber - Head of Legal Department
  • Joe DeFeo - Vice President
  • M. William Butler - Vice President
  • Delbert R. Parks III - Vice President, Engineering
  • Gregg Siegel - Vice President, Sales
  • Mark E. Hyman - Vice President, Corporate Communications
  • Lucy A. Rutishauser - Vice President, Finance and Treasurer
  • David R. Bochenek - Chief Accounting Officer
  • Jeffrey W. Sleete - Vice President, Marketing
  • Frederick G. Smith - Vice President

Board of Directors

From the Sinclair website:

  • David D. Smith, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer
  • Frederick G. Smith, Vice President
  • J. Duncan Smith, Vice President and Secretary
  • Robert E. Smith, Director
  • Daniel C. Keith, President and Founder of the Cavanaugh Group, Inc.
  • Martin R. Leader, Director
  • Lawrence E. McCanna, Managing Partner, Gross, Mendelsohn & Associates, P.A.
  • Basil A. Thomas, Of Counsel, Thomas & Libowitz, P.A.

Top institutional investors

A more complete list of institutional investors in Sinclair, including contact info, is on the Media Matters website.

Contact information

Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.
10706 Beaver Dam Road
Hunt Valley, MARYLAND 21030
(410) 568-1500
(410) 568-1533
http://www.sbgi.net

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Federal Communications Commission "Notice of Apparent Liability (PDF)," October 18, 2007.
  2. Press release, "Sinclair Broadcast Group," December 11, 2007.

External resources

External articles

GPL disclaimer

Portions of this article are adapted from an article on the dKosopedia as well as from a corresponding article in the Wikipedia.