A national broadcasting chain’s requirement that reporters read promotional scripts denouncing “fake news” and alleging political bias among journalists has drawn a national outcry.
The three stations Sinclair Broadcast group owns in Lewiston, KLEW, KLEW-2 and KLEW-3, aired those segments in late March which have been criticized for having talking points similar to those used by the Trump administration. (Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Lewiston stations did not run the segments.)
The stations – available in some Spokane-area locations over the air, by satellite or cable service – also have a link to Sinclair’s conservative-leaning “Behind the Headlines,” found on their website in a menu under “News.”
The program is editorializing on the part of Sinclair, said Douglas Hindman, chairman of journalism and media production at Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communications.
“They’re free to do that,” Hindman said. The problem is that Sinclair isn’t clarifying to its audience that “Behind the Headlines” is opinion and separate from the news reports, he said.
“What changed is where they asked anchors to read from a provided script, and considerably borrow the credibility of anchors and their connection with viewers to carry and transmit the opinions of the ownership group,” he said.
KLEW reporters were unable to comment, but General Manager David Praga said in an email the station is “extremely proud” of its journalists.
“Our agenda is to serve our communities by sharing relevant information to alert, protect and empower our audiences,” he said. “(Our reporters) are committed to producing the best, most informative and accurate content for our viewers.”
A news release issued by Sinclair said the company’s promotional segments had “no political agenda.”
Scott Livingston, senior vice president of news at Sinclair, said the company’s stations focus on fact-based reporting.
“(We) find it curious that we would be attacked for asking our news people to remind their audiences that unsubstantiated stories exist on social media,” he said. “It is ironic that we would be attacked for messages promoting our journalistic initiative for fair and objective reporting.”
The promos would not be the first case in which Sinclair has been accused of political bias.
The Seattle Times reported in 2017 that for years, journalists at Sinclair-owned stations across the country were required to run segments filled with conservative talking points.
Another report by the Times on Tuesday detailed frustrations from journalists at the Sinclair-owned KOMO news station in Seattle.
Journalists at KOMO said they were rarely asked to run a specific story by Sinclair, but did recall being asked to run a “smear” campaign against the Times after an editorial criticizing media consolidation and Sinclair’s purchase of KOMO in 2013.
The story never happened, but KOMO did run a piece on the “death” of newspapers like the Times.
Reporters at KOMO also expressed fears over future requests from the company as midterm elections approach, the Times report said.
Praga said the KLEW staff remains dedicated to honest, objective journalism. Viewers are welcome to voice their concerns through the channel’s website, he said. (An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed this comment to another Sinclair official.)