Owner of three Utah TV stations orders anchors to read statement denouncing ‘fake news’

<b>Television •</b> It’s the latest move from right-leaning Sinclair Broadcast Group to spread its message.

(Steve Ruark | AP Photo) In this Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2004, file photo, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.'s headquarters stands in Hunt Valley, Md.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns three television stations in Utah — KUTV, KJZZ and KMYU — is requiring its local news anchors to read on-air statements decrying “fake stories” on social media and “national media outlets,” according to CNN.

Sinclair, in a statement late Thursday, denies that the messages are aimed at the national media.

In documents obtained by CNN, Sinclair instructs its local news anchors to tell viewers that they are “extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism” the station is doing, but that they are “concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” And to produce the attached scripts exactly as they are written.”

CNN reported that, without naming names, the script went on to bash national news outlets as purveyors of “fake news.”

Sinclair’s vice president of news, Scott Livingston, struck back at CNN in a statement, asserting that the promos are aimed at “social media” and “not network or cable news.”

“Ironically, Mr. [Brian] Stelter’s apparent attempt to portray these announcements as something that they are not, despite having access to the facts, might very well be viewed as fake news.”

CNN is standing by its story, which includes the text of memos reporter Brian Stelter said he obtained from Sinclair station staffers.

“The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media,” the script reads. “More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, 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.”

The script also includes a statement that “truth is neither politically left or right,” and the instructions tell anchors, “The goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional.” The irony is that Sinclair has itself long been the subject of accusations that its owners’ political agenda is subverting their news content.

Promos will air on KUTV and its sister stations in the coming weeks, but will focus on the trustworthiness of local news versus “fake news” on social media, according to a source.

CNN reported that the memo originated in Sinclair headquarters in Maryland, and that local stations were told that “corporate will monitor the comments [from viewers] and send replies to your audience on your behalf.”

This is the latest move from the right-leaning media company that has ordered its stations to carry anti-Barack Obama infomercials, political commentary by former Donald Trump spokesman Boris Epshteyn and stories that promote a pro-Trump political agenda — including a Sinclair-produced “Terrorism Alert Desk.”

A 2017 episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” focused on the right-wing politics of Sinclair and its owners, the Smith family, including clips from several Sinclair stations doing identical reports that the FBI had a “personal vendetta” against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

And Sinclair — which operates more than 170 stations across the country — has confirmed the existence of the scripted promos. But Livingston said in his statement that this is ”very common in local broadcasting and numerous station groups air similar messages across all of their stations, all using an identical script, but read by the local anchor.”

This comes at a time when the Sinclair Broadcast Group is still working to complete its acquisition of Tribune Media and its 42 stations, which would give Sinclair access to about 70 percent of the nation’s television viewers. Tribune Media owns KSTU-Channel 13 in Salt Lake City, but has acknowledged in a Federal Communications Commission filing that it will sell or trade the station to comply with FCC ownership regulations.

(Tribune Media is not affiliated with The Salt Lake Tribune.)

Sinclair instructed its local stations to have their anchors read the scripts exactly as written; to read them as often as possible; and to do it during the newscast, not during commercial/promo time. The anchors are even told to wear “jewel tones,” and not red, blue or purple. “The goal is to look apolitical, neutral, nonpartisan yet professional. Black or charcoal suits for men. … Females should wear yellow, gold, magenta, cyan.”

Editor’s note: KUTV Channel 2 is a content partner with The Salt Lake Tribune.