Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. is soliciting contributions from its executives and news directors for its political action committee, a move that has raised concerns Saturday from journalism ethics experts.
"Please take the time to evaluate the importance that the Sinclair PAC can have towards benefiting our company and the needs of the industry as a whole," Sinclair Vice President David Amy, who chairs the company’s political action committee, said in a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
Sinclair, based in Hunt Valley, Md., outside Baltimore, owns 173 television stations — making it the nation's largest operator.
Its $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media Co., is pending before federal regulators.
Tribune owns or operates 42 stations, including such large markets as Chicago, where the company is headquartered, and New York and Los Angeles.
The deal, which would expand Sinclair's reach into 72 percent of the nation's homes, is opposed by news outlets spanning the political spectrum, including Newsmax Media Inc.
However, the deal must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department.
Under current antitrust regulations, a TV station owner cannot have a reach into more than 39 percent of American households.
Federal campaign finance rules would require the donations be disclosed in filings.
Sinclair's solicitation efforts, experts told the Post, breached longstanding media ethical standards.
The policy "violates every standard of conduct that has existed in newsroom for the past 40 or 50 years," said Lewis Friedland, a University of Wisconsin journalism professor.
"I’ve never seen anything like this," he told the Post. "They certainly have the right to do it, but it’s blatantly unethical."
Rebecca Hanson, a Sinclair senior vice president, countered that the company's request did not compromise ethical standards because it was only sent to executives and news managers.
"They [the news directors] were solicited as a result of being part of our managerial level, not because of their role in editorial," she told the Post.
"Participation is completely voluntary," Hanson added. "There is no corporate pressure to participate and no consequence for not participating.
"It doesn’t put them in any ethical bind whatsoever."
Scott Livingston, Sinclair’s vice president of news, did not respond to requests for comment for the report.
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