Skewed News: Is Your Local TV Station Really on Your Side?

If you are reading this, you probably do not depend on Fox TV affiliate KPTV as a reliable, unbiased news source. But what about Portland-based KATU?

In case you missed it, the ABC affiliate was purchased by Sinclair Broadcast Group in 2013. Sinclair now owns more broadcast stations in the United States than any other company, with a total of 193 stations in more than 100 markets across the country, reaching 40 percent of U.S. households. So the company’s owners have the power to greatly influence what news and information are delivered to their audiences.

Sinclair is owned by a family of conservative multimillionaires who donate heavily to Republican candidates. A Washington Post analysis of 2016 presidential campaign coverage found that Sinclair-owned stations devoted more broadcast time favorable or neutral to Donald Trump than to other candidates both in the primary and general election, while broadcasts were negative toward Hillary Clinton. According to The Guardian, Sinclair stations featured 15 “exclusive” interviews with Trump, which aired mostly in critical swing states in the final months of the election.

Sinclair demands that its stations air commentary reflecting its owners’ views. For example, they must broadcast segments from the company’s chief political analyst, Boris Epshteyn, who previously served as senior advisor to Trump during the presidential campaign, as well as from conservative political commentator Mark Hyman.

Another required segment is the “Terrorism Alert Desk,” featuring reports of recent terror attacks from around the world, which the nonprofit research center Media Matters concludes “are designed to gin up xenophobia via local news.”

For more on how Sinclair Broadcasting is skewing local news, watch this funny, irreverent, yet
completely chilling segment from HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

No one at IATSE Local 488 is laughing at Sinclair’s ownership of KATU. IATSE stands for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and Local 488 represents the studio mechanics of the Pacific Northwest, which is virtually every craft and crew position involved with making film, TV, commercials, and streaming media. Local 488, whose jurisdiction encompasses Oregon, Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana, has almost 700 members, according to its vice president, cdavid cottrill (sic).

The Portland resident notes that KATU currently employs members of IATSE Local 600, but adds that “Sinclair Media has shown itself to be anti-worker and anti-union in their contracts and in their working conditions.”

He also decries KATU’s owners insistence on “feeding stories from their home office, which are really politically skewed, opinion pieces that are prerecorded by their leadership. They also force their local news anchors to read issued statements from the company as if they were news pieces from the local community. In total Sinclair has proven itself at its other stations to be a money-driven mouthpiece whose sole purpose to hijack local news for its own agenda and the talking points of the politically far right.”

“While there can and should be a variety of opinions expressed through all news outlets, IATSE Local 488 believes our public airwaves should not be taken over by corporate behemoths who seek to present distorted opinion pieces and fake narratives as actual news.”

The conservative corporate behemoth is on the verge of growing even larger. The company is trying to purchase Tribune media, which would give Sinclair enough local stations to reach 70 percent of U.S. homes.

While U.S. regulations once limited the number of local news stations any one entity could own and also prohibited companies from owning a newspaper and television station in the same media market, Trump’s appointees to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have abolished both of those regulations. However, there’s an investigation underway into possible collusion between FCC and Sinclair, and the Justice Department may require the company to sell some of its stations before approving the merger.

We contacted KATU for a comment but did not hear back. For the record: KOIN, the CBS affiliate, is owned by Nexstar Media Group, whereas NBC affiliate KGW is owned by Tegna, Inc.

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