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Prosecutor lodges complaint against local Sinclair station

A local prosecutor’s office has filed a formal complaint with federal regulators against a local station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group over the station’s news content.

The letter, filed by the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, accuses Fox affiliate WBFF (Channel 45) of producing news coverage about prosecutor Marilyn Mosby that it claimed was “blatantly slanted, dishonest, misleading, racist, and extremely dangerous.”

“Given today’s politically charged and divisive environment, [the coverage] is extremely dangerous,” Zy Richardson, a communications executive with Mosby’s office, said in the letter.

The protest was filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a regulatory body that oversees various aspects of the broadcast media industry, including the issuance of commercial broadcast licenses and enforcement of certain content rules.

Federal regulators have often decided not to enforce certain broadcast content rules when it comes to local and national news productions carried on public airwaves, viewing these broadcasts as a kind of public service.

Instead, regulators have largely focused their efforts against broadcasters who are the subject of complaints over indecency — profanity or, more usually, sexual content — that is aired by local stations and national networks. Regulators also closely scrutinize proposed mergers between two broadcast operators; two years ago, Sinclair was fined $48 million for deceiving the government over its proposed merger with Tribune Media, which ultimately failed.

The allegation against WBFF is somewhat symbolic: It was Sinclair’s first television station. Now, the company owns or operates nearly 300 local broadcast outlets.

The company has drawn public criticism in the past over its local news coverage, with some of its own employees charging Sinclair with demanding the insertion of conservative-slanted opinion pieces in local newscasts.

On Monday, Mosby’s office said Sinclair had made her and her operation something of a target: Last year, WBFF ran more than 240 stories about the local prosecutor, according to data cited by her office in the FCC’s letter. That’s more than the collective total of stories run about Mosby and the prosecutor’s office by WBFF’s rivals (ABC affiliate WMAR-TV, Channel 2; CBS station WJZ-TV, Channel 4; and NBC affiliate WBAL-TV, Channel 11).

In addition to some unflattering stories, Mosby’s office complained that the station once aired her home address, something they called a “deliberate” act.

In a statement published by the Baltimore Sun newspaper, a station executive dismissed Mosby’s concerns.

“WBFF is committed to journalism in the public interest with its award-winning investigative unit being a key part of delivering on that commitment,” Billy Robbins, WBFF’s general manager, told the newspaper. “While we understand that it’s not always popular with the individuals and institutions upon which we are shining a light, we stand by our reporting.”

It was not clear as of Monday evening if the FCC was investigating Mosby’s complaint.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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