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Sinclair Defends NewsCentral

In an attempt to clear up "misconceptions" about its NewsCentral centralcasting system, a Sinclair Broadcast Group executive told a Senate panel that the technology is an asset to localism, not a hindrance.

Barry M. Faber, Sinclair's VP and general counsel, told the Senate Commerce Committee July 23 that the system would enable additional news programming in eight of the company's 39 markets by year-end. Some critics have charged that NewsCentral undermines localism with feeds of national news and conservative opinion from Sinclair's Baltimore-area headquarters. This model, he noted, is not unlike news-sharing arrangements long used in the newspaper and network broadcasting industries.

"Rather than 39 reporters in 39 markets researching, writing and producing 39 stories on a single national or international news event, the story is produced a single time for broadcast in our markets," Faber said. "Our NewsCentral model is designed to achieve certain efficiencies so that we can provide viewers with more choices for local news, particularly in smaller markets, where choices are currently limited."

NewsCentral allows local newscasters to produce and run their local stories, with cuts at prescribed times to national, international or editorial content produced centrally for all Sinclair stations participating in the NewsCentral system. The technology allows otherwise strapped stations to run local a news operation where they could not afford to otherwise, Faber said.

But some senators questioned the system's benefits for localism, especially in the case of weather reporting. One senator said local weather reporting is "localism at its best."

"I'm not sure I agree with that," Faber said, noting that local weathermen rely on data produced elsewhere. "It is very difficult to justify having a weather person at a television station when you're going to have one hour of news a day."

Faber did not say which eight markets would be the new additions to the NewsCentral system. A Sinclair spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.