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FCC pauses its review of Sinclair purchase of Tribune Media

The control booth during a morning news show at TV station WPIX, owned by Tribune Media, in New York, Aug. 27, 2010. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's easing of a cap on how many stations a broadcaster can own has have opened up lucrative opportunities for Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation's largest owner of TV stations, which has bid $3.9 billion to buy Tribune Media. (Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times Copyright 2018 / The New York Times)

The Federal Communications Commission paused its review of Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.'s proposed purchase of Tribune Media Co. to give time for the companies to arrange for the sale of some TV stations to bring the $3.9 billion deal in line with broadcast ownership limits.

Sinclair earlier told the FCC it was evaluating divestitures, and Michelle Carey, the agency's media bureau chief, said in a letter that it was "appropriate" to pause the agency's informal 180-day deadline as the government assesses the company's proposals. The letter, posted Thursday on the FCC's website, set the clock to Jan. 4, or day 167, of the review. Before the action the clock had advanced to day 174.

Sinclair has agreed to buy Tribune's 42 TV stations, giving a broadcaster known for its conservative leanings a presence in major media markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

That would also create a coast-to-coast string exceeding current ownership limits. The Maryland-based Sinclair has said it's considering selling some of the stations to meet the national audience limit.

Sinclair may also face demands from antitrust regulators at the Justice Department to sell TV stations in at least the 10 cities where both Sinclair and Tribune stations are affiliated with major networks.

Sinclair in an earlier filing said it may seek FCC permission to leave intact station combinations in the 10 overlap localities, a possibility since the agency in a November vote relaxed restrictions on owning multiple stations in a locality. The FCC in its letter Thursday said it would review such a request when filed by Sinclair.

Sinclair dropped 40 cents, or 1 percent, to $39.00 at 9:52 a.m. and Tribune was down 20 cents, less than half a percent, to $43.27.

21st Century Fox Inc. is close to an agreement to buy as many as 10 TV stations from Sinclair, people with knowledge of the matter said. The properties include stations in major cities like Denver and Seattle, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.

Rebecca Hanson, a Sinclair spokeswoman, declined to comment on the FCC's action.