Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Sinclair Broadcast Group controversy

“On local news stations across the United States last month, dozens of anchors gave the same speech to their combined millions of viewers. It included a warning about fake news, a promise to report fairly and accurately and a request that viewers go to the station’s website and comment ‘if you believe our coverage is unfair,’” The New York Times reported last week.

These news anchors work for Sinclair Broadcast Group, based in Hunt Valley, Md., which owns 193 local TV stations, making it the largest owner of TV stations in the U.S. A video produced by Deadspin shows dozens of miniaturized TV screens filling the video screen. In each of the small screens Sinclair anchors are shown all reading the same statement.

The purpose of the video was apparently to create an image of dystopian news control by this owner of local TV stations. The video has created quite a wave of criticism of Sinclair for having all its stations’ news departments present the statement on air.

The idea the critics promote is that this indicates some sinister effort to control news at all Sinclair stations, and some comments allege that many of the anchors were privately opposed to the idea.

However, stations in groups like this routinely show “must-runs” such as this. Must-runs contain content the corporate office requires each station to broadcast, and are not at all uncommon. They also are not the subjects of some specially created special purpose video.

Other criticism includes the references to fake stories and false reporting, suggesting that “right-leaning” Sinclair appears to be parroting President Donald Trump’s criticism of “fake news” in the mainstream media, and that therefore Sinclair news is biased in favor of the Trump agenda.

Trying to find the text of this statement was a bit tricky, but, which is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s (SeattlePI) online presence, published the script used by anchors at KOMO-TV in Seattle, WA.

The Website noted, “The KOMO segments feature several different pairs of anchors sticking word-for-word to a Sinclair script they were required to read.” “They're certainly not happy about it,” a KOMO newsroom employee told SeattlePI. “It's certainly a forced thing.”

Here is the statement the anchors presented:

Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces. But we're concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories... stories that just aren't true, without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control “exactly what people think”...This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

At KOMO it's our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand truth is neither politically “left nor right.” Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to and clicking on “Content Concerns.” We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual. We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day. Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback.

This reads like a mission statement for Sinclair’s news services, presented in a personal manor by station news personnel. It plainly condemns weak, slanted and poorly researched reporting, and vows not to indulge in such poor journalistic practices, but to present factual news and a focus on truth.

Further, it invites viewers to contact the station to report what they see as unfair coverage, and promises to respond to such reports. Many people regard that to be a very strong and good message.

Companies routinely have a mission statement telling the public about the company’s philosophy, so why this it an item of fear for Deadspin and other critics of Sinclair is the big mystery, not the message Sinclair put out.

Deadspin has a story online discussing how employees of local stations disagree with the company’s news policy statement. Why honest news people would object to a statement endorsing honest news reporting is a fair question for these staffers.

It all comes down to a simple problem: Any employee who disagrees with the corporate decision for them to read material on air with which they disagree has two choices: One, they can bite their lip and comply, or two, they can find another employer.

Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, Scott Livingston, responded to the furor, calling the backlash “ironic,” and said the stations “keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”

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