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09 August 2018, 09:16 | Elsie Buchanan
Steve Ruark Associated Press Sinclair Broadcast Group’s headquaters in Hunt Valley Md
Last month, however, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Paisaid that he had "serious concerns" about the deal, saying that Sinclair might still be able to operate the stations "in practice, even if not in name". The company already owned 173 stations in 81 markets.
"In light of the FCC's unanimous decision, referring the issue of Sinclair's conduct for a hearing before an administrative law judge, our merger can not be completed within an acceptable timeframe, if ever", Peter Kern, Tribune Media's chief executive officer, said in the statement.
Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. wanted the Chicago company's 42 TV stations and had agreed to dump nearly two dozen of its own to score approval by the Federal Communications Commission.
Tribune Media would be on the hook for a $135 million breakup fee, according to the agreement reached a year ago.
Sinclair had proposed some revisions to its divesture plan last month, but those terms left Sinclair in control of stations under scrutiny, including in Chicago. Sinclair also refused to sell certain stations that would have helped the deal secure regulatory approval, Tribune claims.
"In an effort to maintain control over stations it was obligated to sell if advisable to obtain regulatory clearance, Sinclair engaged in belligerent and unnecessarily protracted negations with DOJ and the FCC over regulator requirements... all in the service of Sinclair's self-interest and in derogation of its contractual obligations", the suit alleges.
The complaint seeks $1 billion from Sinclair to cover the "lost premium to Tribune's stockholders", plus "additional damages in an amount to be proven at trial".
"We've done everything we could to assist Sinclair in getting through the regulatory process, and it's been a huge undertaking for our company to manage through this prolonged exercise, while also keeping our business running strong", Tribune Media CEO Peter Kern said during an earnings call Thursday morning. Ultimately, the FCC concluded unanimously that Sinclair may have misrepresented or omitted material facts in its applications in order to circumvent the FCC's ownership rules and, accordingly, put the merger on indefinite hold while an administrative law judge determines whether Sinclair misled the FCC or acted with a lack of candor.
The American Cable Association (ACA), which represents small- and medium-sized cable companies, also cheered Tribune's decision.
The Maryland company said Thursday in a prepared statement that the Tribune lawsuit is "entirely without merit".
But the FCC had issues with the way Sinclair was approaching these sales and was concerned the company could buy the stations back after the merger was complete. Sinclair defended the script as a way to distinguish its news shows from unreliable stories on social media.
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