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Standard 'Pulling Out All the Stops' on Tegna Deal

Standard General provided additional information to the FCC about the promises it made for the deal for Tegna and on its offer to eventually buy Apollo Global Management’s shares in new Tegna, it said in a news release Wednesday. “We are continuing to work hard to ensure the FCC has all of the information they need to allow a vote on our deal with TEGNA,” said Standard General Founding Partner Soohyung Kim.

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The additional information largely appears to concern commitments Standard already made, such as not to apply after-acquired clauses to retransmission consent rates and a memorandum of understanding reached with several civil rights groups. “Hedge fund Standard General and its private equity partner Apollo Global Management are engaged in a face-saving public relations charade to sugar coat their failure to obtain approval to acquire TEGNA,” responded the Communications Workers of America and the United Church of Christ Media Justice Office: “It is too little, too late.” The FCC “is the last regulatory approval remaining to close this transaction,” Standard said.

In a meeting last week, the FCC Enforcement Bureau said a prerequisite for any kind of settlement would be for Standard to share confidential information with the EB and the other parties in the case, but the release instead says the EB should contact DOJ. “Standard General has nothing to hide and -- if Soo Kim or any of Standard General’s principals were anything less than forthright, this deal would not have passed the [Hart-Scott-Rodino] period without challenge,” the release said. “We encourage the Enforcement Bureau to call the DOJ front office to confirm that a thorough examination of these very issues was already conducted by the DOJ.” Such a settlement could resolve the issues raised in the hearing designation order, and wouldn’t immediately require a commission vote, the EB said last week.

Broadcast attorneys don’t expect the parties to reach a settlement by the deal’s breakup date Monday. Standard’s attorneys were adamant that the agreement can’t proceed beyond May 22, in a recently released transcript of a hearing before the FCC’s administrative law judge. “There is no trick here. We are not planning on showing up on the 23rd with new financing,” Pillsbury broadcast attorney Scott Flick told the ALJ.

The FCC didn’t comment Wednesday on whether the Office of Inspector General will take up lawmakers’ calls for an investigation of the FCC’s handling of the Standard/Tegna deal. “It strikes me as act of desperation,” said former FCC Commissioner Mike Copps, a special adviser with deal opponent Common Cause. The call for an investigation is a sign of Standard “pulling out all the stops” to try to get the transaction approved, he said. Chairman Ajit Pai said in an interview that during his FCC’s consideration of Sinclair’s unsuccessful buy of Tribune, then-Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sought an investigation of his administration. “I think it has reached a point where all of our media policy decisions seem to be custom-built for this one company. And I think it is something that merits investigation,” she said then in response to then Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., during a 2017 oversight hearing. Noting the OIG did investigated the Pai office and issued a report about eight months later exonerating him, Pai said Tuesday that “I would think she’d welcome the oversight.”