Sale of local ABC-TV station gets OK

Local ABC affiliate WCIV-TV in Mount Pleasant will become part of Sinclair Broadcast Group on Aug. 1.

Charleston's ABC television station is about to change hands, more than a year after the deal was initiated.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. announced Friday that the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice have approved its acquisition of WCIV-TV in Mount Pleasant and six other stations.

The company plans to finalize the $985 million deal with Allbritton Communications Co. on Aug. 1.

Sinclair did not release any other details about the purchase in a brief written statement.

Representatives for the Hunt Valley, Md.-based company and for WCIV could not be reached for comment.

Sinclair announced plans to buy the seven Allbritton ABC stations last July. The goal was to close the deal by the end of 2013.

Delays set in last fall after the FCC began scrutinizing Sinclair's longtime practice of forming closely affiliated "sidecar" businesses that have enabled it to buy and control multiple TV stations in markets all over the country, including Charleston.

Critics of the strategy have complained that it's a way to sidestep federal TV ownership limits.

Locally, Sinclair already owns one local station outright, MyNetworkTV affiliate WMMP-TV, and it all but owns another, WTAT-TV, the local Fox station.

In an effort to push the WCIV deal through, Sinclair hired a firm to sell WMMP to an independent buyer, but no bidders surfaced.

It also said its employees would stop selling airtime for and otherwise running WTAT for Cunningham Broadcasting Corp., which owns the station license.

Sinclair revised the terms of the Allbritton deal again in June to appease the FCC. It said it would sell the "non-license" assets of WTAT to Cunningham, which is owned by Sinclair CEO David Smith and his family.

The company also offered to take other steps to distance itself from the local Fox carrier, saying it won't guarantee the station's debt or sell airtime for it anymore.

FCC Media Bureau chief William Lake said in a statement that the government's approval requires Sinclair to sever its ties to WTAT, an arrangement he described as "improper."

"The Media Bureau has demonstrated clearly that it will not allow such combined arrangements to undermine the local TV ownership rule, which is in place to ensure competition and diverse voices on the airwaves," Lake said.

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.