Sinclair to sell TV stations as part of Tribune acquisition

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc SBGI.O on Tuesday said it will sell 23 television stations to several companies after completing its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co TRCO.N.

The sales are to obtain the necessary governmental approval of the Tribune transaction, the company said, as it has worked for months to win regulatory approval for the deal. The company said it now expects to close the deal near the end of June.

Sinclair plans to sell the stations to Standard Media Group, Meredith Corp MDP.N, Howard Stirk and Cunningham Broadcasting Corp and another party to be announced, the company said. The stations include 14 Tribune stations - including WGN-TV in Chicago and stations in Denver, Cleveland and San Diego - and nine Sinclair stations, including outlets in Des Moines, Iowa; Salt Lake City; and Seattle.

Sinclair, which is already the largest U.S. broadcast station owner, announced plans last May to acquire Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets, extending its reach to 72 percent of American households. It was not immediately clear what percentage of the country it would reach after the divestitures.

The deal needs to be approved by the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“After a very robust divestiture process, with strong interest from many parties, we have achieved healthy multiples on the stations we are divesting,” said Sinclair chief executive Chris Ripley in a statement. “While we continue to believe that we had a strong and supportable rationale for not having to divest stations, we are happy to announce this significant step.”

Sinclair said after closing the Tribune deal it will own, operate and/or provide services to 215 television stations, including servicing some of the stations it is divesting.

Earlier this month, 12 U.S. senators asked the FCC to investigate Sinclair for “deliberately distorting news” after local news anchors at Sinclair stations around the country were told to read company-mandated scripts. The scripts criticized “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” Sinclair has defended the scripts.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rejected the request, saying the agency does not have authority to revoke a license based on the content of a particular newscast.

Democrats have attacked Pai for what they claim are a string of FCC decisions benefiting Sinclair and a news media report that Trump’s election campaign struck a deal with Sinclair for favorable coverage. Pai has repeatedly denied he has taken actions aimed at benefiting Sinclair. Sinclair has also denied improper conduct.

Reporting by Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru and David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Jonathan Oatis