Capital Region

Democrats criticize Sinclair Broadcasting

Company continues to deny political motivation behind 'fake news' message
CBS6 (WRGB) on Balltown Road in Niskayuna is pictured.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
CBS6 (WRGB) on Balltown Road in Niskayuna is pictured.

CAPITAL REGION — Criticism of Sinclair Broadcasting and WRGB Channel 6 over the required on-air reading of a statement about “fake news” continues.

Gareth Rhodes, a former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who is running for the Democratic nomination in the 19th Congressional District, said his campaign won’t run any advertising on stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns Channel 6. Longtime anchor Liz Bishop read the statement for the local news channel, and Sinclair has required all its stations nationwide to produce and air identical statements.

“In an era when our nation is increasingly concerned about the spread of fake news, it is unacceptable that a media conglomerate like Sinclair would force our trusted local anchors to push a one-sided political agenda, valuing partisan politics over informing the American public,” Rhodes said in a prepared statement.

Rhodes is one of a half-dozen Democrats campaigning to unseat freshman U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, in the coming election.

The Saratoga Springs Democratic Committee also issued a statement this week, saying it was concerned about the independence of local journalism and asking the Federal Communications Commission to deny Sinclair’s request to purchase additional stations from Tribune Media.

“We trust that local reporters, news staff, anchors and managers at Channel 6 wish only to do excellent work, free from bias and interference from their corporate owners,” said Courtney DeLeonardis, chairwoman of the committee. “We call upon Channel 6 to resist editorial and political interference, and we pledge support to workers and unions who undertake appropriate action to that end.”

The committee has not taken a position on whether Democrats should withhold advertising, as Rhodes is doing. “It’s definitely something to think about,” DeLeonardis said.

Repeated efforts to reach Bishop or Channel 6 management over the past several days have been met only with a Sinclair corporate statement defending its position.

“We aren’t sure of the motivation for the criticism, but find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media, which result in an ill-informed public with potentially dangerous consequences,” Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s senior vice president of news, said in the statement.  “It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting, and for specifically asking the public to hold our newsrooms accountable.  Our local stations keep our audiences’ trust by staying focused on fact-based reporting and clearly identifying commentary.”

The statement Sinclair required broadcasters to read said: “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias.This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

The term “fake news” has been popularized by President Donald Trump, who applies it to newspaper and broadcast stories that he dislikes.

Sinclair, however, maintained the statement was not intended to support a particular ideology.

“The promos served no political agenda and represented nothing more than an effort to differentiate our award-winning news programming from other, less reliable sources of information,” the company said.

The website Deadspin created a much-viewed video that edits together many different anchors across the country — including Bishop — reading the statement, and it was that video that made many people aware of Sinclair’s policy of distributing “must-read” statements.

Sinclair, which is based outside Baltimore, is the largest television station owner in the United States, with 173 stations nationwide.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

 

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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