Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., which recently gained national attention for making its anchors read the same "false news" script, could become the owner of yet another TV station in Austin while still retaining ownership of the city's CBS affiliate. If that scenario were to become reality, Sinclair — which some critics accuse of favoring pro-Trump coverage — would own two of Austin’s four major TV stations.
As part of a deal announced May 9 to sell seven TV stations to New York City-based 21st Century Fox for $910 million, Sinclair picked up the option to buy KTBC, known as Fox 7 Austin, for $160 million. Sinclair already owns Austin’s CBS affiliate, KEYE.
Last year, the Federal Communications Commission relaxed ownership rules for broadcasters so that a company can control two major TV stations in one market, rather than just one. That change would enable Baltimore-based Sinclair to effectively control 50 percent of Austin’s local news stations.
The deal comes as Sinclair seeks to satisfy the demands of government regulators in conjunction with its planned $3.9 billion purchase of Chicago-based broadcaster Tribune Media Co.
If the Tribune deal is approved, 215 television stations will be under Sinclair’s corporate umbrella. (Even without the Tribune acquisition, Sinclair is still the country’s No. 1 owner of local TV stations.) However, it would boost Sinclair’s reach to roughly 70 percent of U.S. households.
In Austin, some viewers have called for a boycott of KEYE after the conservative-leaning Sinclair demanded this spring that news anchors at its stations read the same script on the air, warning about a surge of “biased and false news.”
In the Sinclair promos, the anchors denounce “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” They went on to recite that “some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.”
The issue gained national attention after news website Deadspin stitched together videos of dozens of Sinclair anchors reading the scripted remarks, making them appear as if they were reciting the same words in unison.
Scott Livingston, vice president of news at Sinclair, has defended the scripted declarations, insisting the broadcaster’s news coverage is balanced and denying a pro-Trump bias.
“We want to separate ourselves from the competition," Livingston told NPR. "We want to be transparent about our commitment to factual and objective reporting. And we know that there’s a lot of noise out there."