A story is going viral today sparked by sports news site Deadspin and a segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” The story involves Sinclair Broadcast Group requiring dozens of its television stations to run the exact same promo against “fake news.”
Conservative-leaning Sinclair owns WRLH Channel 35 in Richmond as well as more than 190 TV stations around the country. It would acquire many more, including Richmond’s WTVR CBS 6, if its acquisition of Tribune Media is approved.
The HBO segment shows many different anchors reading the same script from Sinclair, similar in tone to attacks by President Trump on the mainstream media. Trump has praised Sinclair on Twitter. The video mash-up of talking heads is prompting some observers to call it “Orwellian.”
“Nothing says ‘we value independent media’ like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over again like members of a brainwashed cult,” Oliver says in the segment.
Tim Perry, general manager of WRLH, tells Style that the promo in question did not run in Richmond, primarily because of its news share agreement which pays WWBT Raycom Media to produce its nightly news cast.
“Those anchors you see [in the viral video] were working at Sinclair owned and operated news stations,” Perry says. “So that promo campaign wasn’t something that was implemented here.”
Sinclair is currently in the midst of evaluation by the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice regarding its purchase of Tribune Media. According to FCC rules, an entity is permitted to own up to two stations in a given market if the service areas do not overlap and at least one of the stations is not ranked among the top four based on audience share.
Perry notes that the FCC has a provision that “under certain circumstances they will allow two stations in a market,” but right now Sinclair is still in the review process, so he couldn’t comment much more.
“It hasn’t been approved or disapproved,” he says.
Here is the original “Last Week Tonight” segment (NSFW):