Sinclair views delay as reprisal by FCC

Agency linked race to license approvals, broadcaster says

September 18, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. has accused the Federal Communications Commission in court documents of dragging its feet on granting the transfer of 15 TV licenses as a reprisal for the company's not using "race as the criterion for selling their stations."

The applications for transfers were made a month after an FCC official said the agency would make it "really painful" for Sinclair unless the company did "something" to increase minority ownership in broadcasting, the court documents said.

In a petition filed Sept. 10 to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Sinclair said Roy J. Stewart, chief of the FCC's Mass Media Bureau told company officials in April 1998 that future transfer applications would go more smoothly if the company agreed to sell some stations to minority-controlled entities.

Sinclair officials met April 15, 1998, with Stewart and other FCC officials, including William E. Kennard, the agency's first black chairman.

After the meeting, Stewart took Sinclair officials aside to warn that Kennard would make it "really painful" for the company if it didn't seek to increase minority ownership, the company claimed in its court filing.

Kennard, a Clinton appointee, is no longer on the commission. FCC officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.

A month after the April 1998 meeting, Sinclair filed transfer applications for 15 television stations across the country.

When Sinclair officials contacted the FCC on several occasions to inquire about the status of the applications, officials were largely silent, according to the court filing.

Sinclair bought most of the assets of the 15 stations in deals that totaled hundreds of millions of dollars, said Barry M. Faber, Sinclair vice president and general counsel.

As Sinclair awaited approval of the transfer applications, the company arranged local marketing agreements with the stations to provide most of the programming and advertising sales services.

The FCC granted other, more complicated TV license transfers sought by Sinclair after the filing of the paperwork involving the 15 TV stations, the court filing said.

"I see no reason why the court wouldn't tell the FCC that they need to act on the applications," Faber said.

Sinclair says its stations reach about 25 percent of U.S. households. Its TV stations include affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN and WB. Sinclair owns or operates 62 television stations in 40 markets across the country, including WBFF-TV (Channel 45) and WNUV-TV (Channel 54) in Baltimore.

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