U.S. FCC extends comment period for Sinclair Tribune deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday it would allow the public to submit additional comments on Sinclair Broadcast Group's SBGI.O proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media Co TRCO.N that has drawn fire from across the political spectrum.

The FCC said it was pausing its self-imposed, 180-day shot-clock deadline on merger reviews by 15 days until Nov. 2.

Sinclair, which owns more than 170 U.S. television stations, announced plans in May to acquire Tribune’s 42 TV stations in 33 markets as well as cable network WGN America and digital multicast network Antenna TV, extending its reach to 72 percent of American households.

The merger has been opposed by many including Dish Network Corp DISH.O, conservative media, trade and liberal advocacy groups.

Opponents of the deal say it will raise prices while narrowing content and news viewing choices for millions of Americans.

A group of opponents to the deal, including the American Cable Association, Competitive Carriers Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, One America News Network and Dish, said on Wednesday the firms “have failed to provide adequate justification that this merger is in the public interest.”

Sinclair said in August the deal “will advance the public interest by helping to shore up an industry buffeted by well-known economic challenges.” The merger would allow the company to “invest deeply in the free over-the-air delivery of local news, sports, and entertainment.”

Some opponents argue the proposed deal would give Sinclair too much influence over local news content. Sinclair would control far more stations than any of its competitors if the Tribune deal goes forward.

Last week, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she was concerned the tie-up “will do harm to the time-tested principles of diversity, localism, and competition.”

The Maryland-based company has drawn criticism for favoring conservative political candidates. Sinclair in April hired a former Trump campaign adviser, Boris Epshteyn, as a commentator after he briefly served in the Trump White House.

Newsmax Media Chief Executive Chris Ruddy told Reuters on Wednesday that “the Sinclair deal will lead to a massive consolidation of the television industry, and a centralization of news that will be bad for everyone in this country.”

He said “this merger will pave the way for major networks like NBC, CBS and ABC to do the same and begin owning stations all across the country.”

Sinclair would have to divest stations in Seattle, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City as part of the Tribune acquisition under current rules. But it could reverse course if regulators change media ownership regulations.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in April he would launch a “comprehensive review” of media regulations and overhaul rules that restrict consolidation among media companies, but has not yet launched a formal proceeding.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Phil Berlowitz