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Sanders, Warren blast Sinclair’s purchase of Disney RSNs

A trio of Democratic presidential hopefuls are urging close scrutiny of Disney’s $10.6 billion sale of its 21 regional sports networks to Sinclair Broadcast Group, a conservative-leaning TV-station owner.

In a letter this week, US Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker asked the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission to scrutinize the deal partly because of Sinclair’s history of “partisan political messaging.”

“It is clear that Sinclair has an explicit interest in, and commitment to, relaying partisan political messages to its viewers — making its recent anti-competitive expansion attempts into millions of additional households all the more concerning,” the left-leaning lawmakers wrote to the DOJ and FCC.

Disney agreed to sell the regional sports TV networks, or RSNs, as a condition to buying Fox’s entertainment assets for $71.3 billion. Sinclair won the RSN auction in May, but it still needs DOJ and FCC approval.

The Democratic presidential candidates charged that Sinclair has a history of issuing “must-run programming directives.” Last year, for example, Sinclair forced local stations to run a two-minute commentary defending “the use of tear gas on migrants at the border,” according to the letter.

The lawmakers’ Monday letter also expressed fears that Sinclair, which owned nearly 200 TV stations before acquiring the 21 RSNs put up for sale by Disney, could use its added clout to raise prices for cable customers.

The deal stands to bring 74 million RSN subscribers to Sinclair, with broadcasts of nearly half of the professional teams in three of the four major US sports leagues.

Because of the limited number of un-bundled live sport streaming options, the Senators claim the deal would leave sports fans “tethered to their cable bundle.”

The letter also cites Sinclair’s failed attempt two years ago to acquire Tribune Media and its 42 TV stations.

In an effort to obtain FCC approval, the Senators write, “Sinclair purported to sell off certain local stations by arranging ‘sham’ transactions” — one of which would have transferred a station ownership to a company controlled by Sinclair’s executive chairman.

Reps for Sinclair didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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