Common Cause Petitions to Stop Nexstar, Tribune Merger

WASHINGTON—Tribune Media shareholders may have overwhelmingly supported the company’s acquisition by Nexstar last week, but not everyone is happy about the potential merger. Common Cause—joined by Public Knowledge, United Church of Christ OC Inc. and Sports Fans Coalition—filed a petition on Monday with the FCC asking the commission to deny the proposed merger.

Nexstar first announced the proposed deal for Tribune in December 2018, acquiring 42 stations, cable network WGN America and a 31 percent stake in Food Network for a total transaction value of $6.4 billion. The combined assets would give Nexstar more than 200, pre-divestiture full power, owned or service TV stations in 118 markets, as well as growing digital operations. The company would reach a reported 39 percent of U.S. households, creating the largest local broadcasting company in the country.

The Common Cause petition says that Nexstar-Tribune’s reach would be closer to 72 percent, which exceeds the 39 percent Congressionally established ownership cap for VHF stations. Nexstar has said that it would divest some stations to comply with federal ownership rules.

“The Nexstar-Tribune merger is a bad deal for communities across the country who want local news from diverse and independent voices reporting on stories that impact their everyday lives,” read the statement from Michael Copps, Common Cause special adviser and former FCC commissioner. Copps makes the argument that the merger could lead to reporter layoffs and consolidated newsrooms, resulting in less in-depth reporting, locally-originated programming and local news. “This will only lead to less informed citizens, negatively impacting our democracy and civic dialogue.”

He continued: “At a time when the broadcast marketplace is already highly consolidated with a handful of conglomerates owning much of our local media, the FCC should block this merger and uphold a framework that gives communities diverse and independent sources of news and information.”

The full petition is available to read online.