HBO’s John Oliver took Sinclair Broadcast Group to task on Sunday night’s episode of “Last Week Tonight.” Oliver, whose recent criticism of the FCC’s proposed Title II rollback prompted a wave of public comments, this time delved into Sinclair’s pending acquisition of Tribune Media.
The FCC avoided Oliver’s crosshairs this time, as he chose not to discuss the agency’s efforts to reinstate its UHF Discount. That rule will likely be crucial for the approval of the Sinclair-Tribune deal, as it allows the broadcaster to remain in compliance with the FCC rule that no single entity own stations that reach more than 39% of US TV households. He simply noted it is “widely assumed” that the purchase will get regulatory approval.
Instead, Oliver focused on a perceived conservative bias in the content Sinclair madates its local affiliates air during newcasts. He cited highly partisan political commentary by former Trump campaign advisor Boris Epshteyn, who now serves as Sinclair’s chief political analyst, and Sinclair vp, corporate relations Mark Hyman as examples of content the company compels stations to run.
Oliver also highlighted the company’s use of its Terrorism Alert Desk segment to disseminate unsubstantiated reports of alarming terrorist activity, as well as to simply report on policy unrelated to terrorism, but concerning Muslims.
Unlike many of Oliver’s segments, Sunday night’s bashing of Sinclair was not accompanied by some sort of call to action, which is something of a silver lining for Sinclair and a relief for the FCC. Prompted by a segment on net neutrality, Oliver’s viewers in 2014 crashed the FCC’s electronic filing system with a barrage of comments on net neutrality. In the most recent battle over Title II classification, Oliver used the web address GoFCCYourself.com to allow viewers to directly file comments.
In terms of cable holdings, Sinclair currently owns Tennis Channel, while Tribune owns WGN America, Chicagoland Television and a portion of the Food Network and Cooking Channel.