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NH Labor News

Sinclair Forces Pro-Trump Segments on Stations

The Providence Journal reports that IBEW locals are complaining that Sinclair Broadcasting is forcing local stations to air Trump Propaganda

Posted on
Sep 19, 2017

UCOMM has previously reported about how very few companies control the advertising and content that you see. Below, find out how Sinclair Broadcasting is using that ability to force pro-Trump programming down viewers throats.

The company that owns WJAR-TV is mandating the broadcast of multiple programs favorable to President Donald Trump on the state’s most-watched television station.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, a rapidly growing media company that bought Channel 10 in 2014, produces “must-run” segments and distributes them to its local stations nationwide. They must air during daily news programming, Sinclair executives said.

Sinclair is poised to become the nation’s largest owner of TV stations and, with its recent hire of former Trump aide Boris Epshteyn, viewers can expect to see more of the chain’s political programming.

The practice, which has infused a political flavor into the 68-year-old WJAR’s broadcasts, started quietly there at least a year ago.

Three of the segments have rattled viewers and WJAR’s own news reporters, according to Fletcher Fischer, the business manager and financial secretary of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1228, the union that represents broadcast workers there:

  • The Terrorism Alert Desk, advertised as a daily news update about terrorist activity.
  • News pieces from Epshteyn, Sinclair’s chief political analyst.
  • A clearly labeled opinion show featuring Mark Hyman, a former vice president of the company.

These pieces are fed to Sinclair’s 174 stations in the United States every day.

Sinclair’s insertion of the segments into news programming has been harshly critiqued by Rhode Islanders and national commentators.

Gloria Crist, a 54-year-old actress from Tiverton, says she’s stopped watching the station.

Rep. David N. Cicilline condemned the practice, saying: “Rhode Islanders rely on our local news being produced in Rhode Island, not directed by a national conglomerate for local broadcasters to deliver.”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote, “What Fox News is for cable, Sinclair could become for broadcast: programming with a soupçon — or more — of conservative spin.”

And HBO’s John Oliver dedicated a show to what he calls Sinclair’s corporate propaganda.

But Sinclair says it’s providing national commentary to “free up” reporters “to create more local news, which we considered to be squarely in the public interest.”

A closer look at Epshteyn illuminates the potential for conflict. He was recently on the White House payroll as the communications director on the president’s inaugural committee, and before that worked as a Trump campaign strategist.

The 34-year-old is being questioned by Congress as part of the investigation into the campaign’s dealings with Russia. And Politico reports that Epshteyn, a Russian Jewish immigrant, penned President Donald Trump’s controversial Holocaust Memorial statement in January that did not mention Jews. After reports that Epshteyn got into a yelling match with a Fox News booker after a tense appearance on the network, and offended network bookers and contributors across Washington, he left the Trump administration and Sinclair hired him.

Now, on “Bottom Line with Boris,” he delivers the same message in his “chief political analyst” role that he offered journalists on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and others as a Trump surrogate during the campaign.

Crist, who calls herself a “very progressive liberal,” said this makes her skeptical about the autonomy of “Southern New England’s News Leader,” as WJAR Channel 10 bills itself. She said she was shocked when she watched a “Behind the Headlines” commentary segment featuring Hyman in January. The “offensive” piece on hate crimes prompted her to write in and complain.

In an email, she asked the station’s general manager, Vic Vetters: “Is WJAR going the way of Fox News?”

The Hyman segment, posted to his website on Jan. 10, questions the need for separate categorization of hate crimes.

“If someone is the victim of an assault, what difference does it make if the perpetrator didn’t care for that person’s race, ethnicity, shoe size or height? Or if the perp attacked only because they’re mean and ornery?” Hyman says in the clip. ”... Spray-painted graffiti is no less expensive to cover-up if it’s gibberish than if it’s slurs.”

Vetters referred all questions for this story to Sinclair representatives.

In an emailed statement, a Sinclair spokesman said the content “contributes not only to the quantity and quality of information available to local viewers around the country, but adds to the diversity of viewpoints on national issues by providing a new voice in addition [to] broadcast networks, which currently dominate the national broadcast news offerings in most local markets.”

Julian Sinclair Smith launched the broadcasting company in 1971 in Baltimore. His son, David Smith, took the reins in the 1990s, expanding its reach to 81 markets across the country.

While Sinclair once broadcast to relatively few homes, it is now poised to reach 72 percent of American households if its acquisition of Tribune Media Company is approved. The $3.9 billion purchase would add 42 stations to its holdings.

It could expand Sinclair’s reach to 87.3 million homes, of the 119.6 million American households that the Neilsen foundation estimates have televisions.

Smith and Sinclair pull no punches about their political leanings. The company’s controversies date to the era of George W. Bush, when, among other things, the broadcaster sent a team to Iraq to report “good news” about the war; aired “Stolen Honor,” a documentary critical of John Kerry’s anti-Vietnam war activism, weeks before the 2004 election; and refused to air a “Nightline” program that listed the name of every American soldier killed in Iraq.

In 2012, it broadcast an “election eve” special that was critical of then-President Barack Obama in swing states.

In December, the Washington Post reported that a review of Sinclair programming and documents shows a “strong tilt” toward Trump.

“Sinclair gave a disproportionate amount of neutral or favorable coverage to Trump during the campaign while often casting Clinton in an unfavorable light,” the Post reported. Also that month, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said he struck a deal with Sinclair for better media coverage of his father-in-law. Sinclair denied this claim.

On a typical weekday, Channel 10 broadcasts about six hours of news programming, including commercials. Sinclair says 2.5 percent, or about 10 minutes, of that time is occupied by pieces it provides. Not all of that is the conservative-oriented pieces; a spokeswoman was uncertain what proportion those pieces make up.

The Terrorism Alert Desk’s updates, even in the absence of any real terrorism-related events, is scary for some, said Moni Chea, a 32-year-old Providence woman who works in a nursing clinic. Chea’s 85-year-old grandmother fled conflict in Cambodia and now lives in Portland, Maine, where Sinclair owns a local station.

“It’s very captivating. She hears the music and it sounds very important. I try to tell her it’s just an update about national security, but she worries,” said Chea. “She fled a war. For her, terrorism — that’s her biggest fear.”

Chea, who watched Channel 10 for the seven years she’s lived in Rhode Island, recently switched stations, she said.

Channel 10 has also added a section to their website for “Circa” news, which is also owned by Sinclair. This website, aimed at millennials, is a favorite of Fox News’ Sean Hannity and pushes similar right-leaning content, critics say.

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