In a video that went viral on March 31, dozens of news anchors from Sinclair-owned local TV stations recite an identical speech denouncing biases in national media. While the speech was aired during each local station’s news hours, it is actually a Sinclair-mandated script, one of a number of “must-run” segments that the broadcasting company has pushed on its local news affiliates in recent months. At one point, the script reads: "Some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control 'exactly what people think' ... This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
“This latest move by Sinclair to push anti-media rhetoric out through its local affiliates during news broadcasts is a threat to the editorial independence of these channels and the journalists they employ. The campaign is even more concerning given the high level of trust Americans place in their local news outlets,” said Margaux Ewen, Director of RSF’s North America bureau. “This is a harrowing sign of just how far President Trump’s use of the term ‘fake news’ is spreading to de-legitimize critical reporting in the United States.”
While representatives from Sinclair have reiterated their company’s “commitment to reporting facts” as the intent of this campaign, criticism has come from members of Congress, reporters, and current and former company employees. Aaron Weiss, a former news director at a company-owned television station, told CNN: “The problem with what Sinclair does is, they co-opt the credibility that local anchors have built up in their communities over years and decades, and use that credibility to promote a political agenda.” A 2017 Morning Consult/Politico poll found that more registered voters trust their local news outlets to report the truth than national news. Sinclair owns the largest number of local television stations in the United States, and the company is currently involved in a proposed $3.9 billion deal to buy out Tribune Media. The purchase would provide the company with an additional 42 television stations, leaving Sinclair with more than 200 news television stations nationwide.
In response to the campaign, some of the company’s employees have expressed their disapproval or even resigned from their positions, and at least one affiliate channel has refused to air the segment. However, current and former employees have shared with the press evidence demonstrating a work environment that makes it difficult for staff to express concerns or even to leave the company, and Sinclair often imposes editorial influence on how its local affiliates present stories and graphics, including deleting comments from affiliates’ online content before web editors address it. Some employees for company-owned TV stations are also required by a "liquidated damages" clause to pay 40 percent of their annual compensation if they choose to leave their position before the end of term, and a noncompete clause bars them from signing contracts with competitors for six months after terminating their agreement, according to contracts reviewed by Bloomberg. Other employees have shared excerpts from employee handbooks that say the company “may monitor, intercept, and review, without further notice, every employee’s activities using Company’s electronic resources and communications systems.” And while legal experts say this is standard contract language, Sinclair employees told The Huffington Post the workplace culture has made them “particularly mindful” of these policies.