[Note: This item comes from friend Robert Berger. DLH]
Sinclair Requires TV Stations to Air Segments That Tilt to the Right
By SYDNEY EMBER
May 12 2017
They are called “must-runs,” and they arrive every day at television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group — short video segments that are centrally produced by the company. Station managers around the country are directed to work them into the broadcast over a period of 24 or 48 hours.
Since November 2015, Sinclair has ordered its stations to run a daily segment from a “Terrorism Alert Desk” with updates on terrorism-related news around the world. During the election campaign last year, it sent out a package that suggested in part that voters should not support Hillary Clinton because the Democratic Party was historically pro-slavery. More recently, Sinclair asked stations to run a short segment in which Scott Livingston, the company’s vice president for news, accused the national news media of publishing “fake news stories.”
As Sinclair prepares to expand its stable of local TV stations with a proposed acquisition of Tribune Media — which would add 42 stations to Sinclair’s 173 — advocacy groups have shown concern about the size and reach the combined company would have. Its stations would reach more than 70 percent of the nation’s households, including many of the largest markets.
Critics of the deal also cite Sinclair’s willingness to use its stations to advance a mostly right-leaning agenda. That practice has stirred wariness among some of its journalists concerned about intrusive direction from headquarters.
That is what has happened in Seattle, a progressive city where Sinclair owns the KOMO broadcast station. In interviews over the past several days, eight current and former KOMO employees described a newsroom where some have chafed at Sinclair’s programming directives, especially the must-runs, which they view as too politically tilted and occasionally of poor quality. They also cited features like a daily poll, which they believe sometimes asks leading questions.
“It is something that’s very troubling to our members,” said Dave Twedell, a business representative for the union that represents photojournalists at KOMO. “I have not found one of our members who is supportive of our company’s position.”
The journalists at KOMO described small acts of rebellion, like airing the segments at times of low viewership or immediately before or after commercial breaks so they blend in with paid spots. They all spoke on condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from the company.
Those interviewed said that being on the other side of the country from the corporate headquarters outside Baltimore gave them some breathing room. But not always.
In late 2013, for instance, after The Seattle Times wrote an editorial criticizing Sinclair’s purchase of KOMO, Sinclair ordered KOMO to do a story critical of the newspaper industry, and of The Seattle Times in particular, according to two of the people interviewed.
KOMO journalists were surprised in January when, at a morning planning meeting, they received what they considered an unusual request. The station’s news director, who normally avoided overtly political stories, instructed his staff to look into an online ad that seemed to be recruiting paid protesters for President Trump’s inauguration. Right-leaning media organizations had seized on the ad, which was later revealed as a hoax, as proof of coordinated efforts by the left to subvert Mr. Trump.
Only after reporters had left the room did they learn the origin of the assignment, two of them said: The order had come down from Sinclair.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, Mr. Livingston rebuffed suggestions that Sinclair pushed right-leaning views. “We work very hard to be objective and fair and be in the middle,” he said. “I think maybe some other news organizations may be to the left of center, and we work very hard to be in the center.”
He said multiple times that local news was “at the heart of Sinclair” and that the company was committed to its communities.