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Journalists From Sinclair Broadcast Group Fire Back

Vox: We’re journalists at a Sinclair news station. We’re pissed.

Some journalists from a Sinclair-owned news station have anonymously written a group letter airing some of their grievances over the controversial must-read segments that went viral from an edited Deadspin video which showed anchors at 45 local news stations simultaneously reciting their scripts.

“We are journalists at one of the 193 local television stations owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, a media corporation with conservative and pro-Trump ties. We are writing this essay because we’re disturbed by the editorial direction our leadership is taking, and we want people to know that many of us at Sinclair reject what our company is doing. We’re writing this anonymously because if we spoke out under our names, we could lose our jobs — and potentially owe money to Sinclair.”

These journalists’ jobs are held hostage to force them into spreading propaganda. In order to continue providing for themselves and their families, they have to do what their bosses tell them. Everyone working for Sinclair is essentially facing the same threat: obey, or be punished. And with Sinclair trying to buy up even more stations to expand its reach–possibly even double it–they are about to lower that same guillotine over even more news workers. Say what we tell you to say, or else.

I’m torn on how to feel about the employees of Sinclair who are put in this position. On one hand, I want them all to refuse, resign, whatever they have to do in order to stop the spread of this blatant propaganda on behalf of the Trump administration. But on the other hand, that’s a huge sacrifice for any of these people to make–they would be putting themselves and their families at risk, possibly even facing expensive legal repercussions.

There’s the crowdfunding route–they make a public display of quitting and hope that the public backs them up to pay their legal bills and support them if they can’t find another job. This has worked in the past for some, but it’s putting a lot of trust in what must feel like a moonshot from someone forced into that decision.

What we need to solve the root problem is to bring back the Fairness Doctrine:

The fairness doctrine of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the FCC’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the policy in 1987 and removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011.

Obviously, there’s a lot of room for interpretation with “controversial issues of public importance” and “honest, equitable, and balanced.” But in a practical sense, this law meant that if you were going to use public airwaves, you had to do it in the public interest and in a balanced way:

“The Fairness Doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows or editorials. The Fairness Doctrine simply prohibited stations from broadcasting from a single perspective, day after day, without presenting opposing views.”

Oddly enough, in the 2005 article I just referenced looking for information on the Fairness Doctrine, Sinclair Broadcast Group rears its ugly head again:

“When the Sinclair Broadcast Group retreated from pre-election plans to force its 62 television stations to preempt prime-time programming in favor of airing the blatantly anti-John Kerry documentary Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal, the reversal wasn’t triggered by a concern for fairness: Sinclair back-pedaled because its stock was tanking. The staunchly conservative broadcaster’s plan had provoked calls for sponsor boycotts, and Wall Street saw a company that was putting politics ahead of profits. Sinclair’s stock declined by nearly 17 percent before the company announced it would air a somewhat more balanced news program in place of the documentary.”

Since we don’t have the Fairness Doctrine, the only thing we can rely on to change Sinclair’s mind is their profits. A boycott by their advertisers would achieve that:

“If companies decide they are no longer willing to advertise on a propaganda platform, this could have an impact. Look at Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News host and alleged serial sexual abuser who was fired after an advertiser boycott last year. In the midst of the boycott, O’Reilly went on Easter vacation with his family and never reappeared on air. It’s happening at Fox again now: Currently, Laura Ingraham, the Fox New host whose show was dropped by at least 15 advertisers after she attacked Parkland shooting survivors, is also on “Easter vacation” with her family.”

There are problems with this strategy too, though, because advertisers are unlikely to respond as quickly or aggressively to a boycott of Sinclair as an entire media company:  “Sinclair’s fragmented, inherently local structure … makes it much more difficult to rally a boycott against than a national program like Laura Ingraham’s ‘The Ingraham Angle,’ for instance.” So the pushback against Sinclair will have to be very strong for advertisers to take notice and join a boycott. For now, it seems they’re waiting to see how the public reacts:

“Specifically, advertisers are paying close attention to channels in more liberal markets such as KOMO-TV in Seattle (whose reporters too have been more critical of the Sinclair mandate), according to another local TV buyer. They are watching ratings closely in these markets to see if these mandated right-leaning scripts at all have an impact on the number of people that tune in. If the numbers take a hit, advertisers may take the plunge.”

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