Sinclair Broadcast Group is selling WYZZ-TV (43) to Cunningham Broadcasting for $22 million, according to an article in TVNewsCheck.com and an official filing with the FCC. The sale was necessary to comply with FCC ownership rules after Sinclair acquired WHOI-TV (19) from Barrington Broadcasting.
Cunningham Broadcasting has several ownership objections pending against it before the FCC. Local watchdog groups in other media markets as well as the Free Press organization accuse Cunningham of being a shell corporation for Sinclair — a company controlled by Sinclair and used solely to circumvent FCC media ownership rules.
Indeed, in their own filing, Sinclair states that “the majority stockholder of CBC [Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation] is the Carolyn C. Smith Cunningham Trust.” Carolyn Smith, along with her husband Julian Sinclair Smith, is a co-founder of Sinclair Broadcast Group, and the trust beneficiaries are her sons, who are also co-founders of Sinclair. Carolyn died in 2012.
Thus, media consolidation will deepen here in Central Illinois. We have five local commercial stations (WHOI 19, WEEK 25, WMBD 31, WYZZ 43, WAOE 59) which heretofore have been owned by five separate companies but operated by only two companies (Granite Broadcasting Corporation, which operates WHOI, WEEK, and WAOE; and Nexstar Broadcasting Group, which operates WMBD and WYZZ). Now two of those stations — WHOI and WYZZ — are going to be controlled, if not outright owned, by the same company.
Media consolidation is bad. As a perfect case in point, I’ll bet you didn’t know any of the information in this post before I just shared it with you. If we had more media diversity, you would have known about it long before now. But because the Journal Star has had its staff decimated by Gatehouse Media, and because there are only two television news organizations in town — and they both have ties to Sinclair now, by the way — you won’t hear about it. (Well, maybe the paper will mention it in a couple weeks buried in one of Steve Tarter’s columns, especially since I’ve published it on my blog. But don’t count on it. Generally speaking, you’ll never hear about it.)
There are many other things you don’t (and won’t) hear about, because when newsrooms shrink and reporters are let go in the name of efficiency, it means there are fewer people around to act as watchdogs for the public. Do you know how the Journal Star gets its news about Peoria Park District board meetings now? The Park District director (Bonnie Noble) writes up a summary and sends it in. Bet you didn’t know that, either. That’s what passes as “reporting” these days in our fair city. Take a look back through the Park District’s minutes and see how many of them indicate “Press Present: None.” The Park District — a municipal organization with a $15+ million property tax levy — and not a single member of the press attends their meetings to see how they’re spending our money or conducting business.
But I digress.
The sale of WYZZ to Cunningham should be opposed by this community. Other communities have filed official and unofficial protests with the FCC, and have started online petition drives. Here in Peoria, we haven’t even heard about it.
The procedures for filing formal and informal objections to the sale (or “assignment” in legalese) of a TV license are available from the FCC website here.