The Department of Justice (DOJ) may require communications behemoth Time Warner to sell Turner Broadcasting, the parent company of CNN, or other significant broadcasting assets before it approves a merger with AT&T, prompting allegations that the department is punishing President Donald Trump’s political adversaries.
Sources with knowledge of the department’s plans told Financial Times and The New York Times Wednesday that DOJ’s antitrust division has informed both companies that they must sell either Turner Broadcasting or DirecTV in order to secure approval for the $85.4 billion deal. The antitrust division is the DOJ unit charged with enforcing anti-monopoly laws and ensuring fair economic competition.
The potential merger has elicited intense opposition from consumer groups and anti-corporate activists, who fear most of the country’s creative outfits, broadcasting platforms, and distribution networks are consolidating into sprawling, omnipotent conglomerates. The Time Warner/AT&T merger would give a single company control over such entities as CNN, DirecTV, HBO, and Warner Bros., as well as a significant share of all mobile phone services.
If DOJ officially requires the companies to sell broadcast assets in order to merge, a court challenge is sure to follow. Federal courts may review requirements DOJ establishes when it evaluates proposed mergers.
The reports led some to speculate that the department is using the deal as a means by which to punish CNN, a major media operation generally seen as hostile to the president. Trump himself vowed his administration would not approve the deal during the 2016 presidential election, calling such concentration of power “an example of the power structure I am fighting.”
“AT&T is buying Time Warner, and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he said at an Oct. 2016 rally in Gettysburg, Pa.
DOJ vigorously denied that its request is politically motivated, but declined to discuss the specifics of their pending proposal respect the merger.
“The Department is committed to carrying out its duties in accordance with the laws and the facts. Beyond that, the Department does not comment on any pending investigation,” a DOJ spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
It is unclear if the request to sell Turner Broadcasting or DirecTV emanates from the department’s nonpartisan career staff, or from Trump employees.
Wednesday’s reports dealt a blow to both company’s stocks. Time Warner shares fell 6.5 percent during afternoon trading, while AT&T flatlined.
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