Reports: DOJ said AT&T/Time Warner merger needs CNN sale

CNN New York offices. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Posted Wednesday, November 8, 2017 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The Justice Department is requesting that AT&T/Time Warner sell off Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN, before it would clear the merger, the New York Times reported. 

Another way to satisfy the regulators would be for the combined company to sell DirecTV, the satellite subscription operation.

If the Department of Justice demands either move, it’s likely AT&T and Time Warner will fight the request in court. The merger is considered “vertical,” meaning neither company is directly competing with the other. AT&T is primarily a distribution company. Time Warner is primarily content production.

And while this move would seem like a victory for activists that believe there is too much media consolidation as it is, some observers perceive this to be a move made because President Donald Trump dislikes CNN.

“While there are plenty of good reasons to oppose AT&T’s Time Warner takeover, punishing CNN for trying to hold this administration accountable isn’t one of them,” said Craig Aaron, CEO of the non-partisan group Free Press, which supports peoples’ rights to communicate freely. ” No matter where you come down on this merger, everyone should agree that the government shouldn’t base antitrust decisions or FCC rulings on whether it likes a newsroom’s coverage.”

“It’s certainly a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the First Amendment,” he added. “This is how leaders behave in dictatorships, not democracies.”

Turner Broadcasting includes not just CNN but HLN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim and Cartoon Network. Time Warner purchased Turner Broadcasting in 1996 from Ted Turner.

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