NISKAYUNA — “Come on out here with us, Liz.”
That’s what one of the approximately 30 protesters yelled Thursday night in reference to veteran local anchor Liz Bishop. She was featured in a video earlier this month edited by Deadspin that showed anchors from 45 Sinclair Broadcasting Group stations from throughout the country. They recited a script warning the dangers of “fake news” and how “extremely dangerous” it is to our democracy.
Many people interpreted the script as parroting President Donald Trump’s criticism of the general news media. Sinclair is known as a media group operated by owners with a far right slant.
The protesters gathered outside of the office of WRGB Channel 6, a CBS affiliate based in Niskayuna and owned by Sinclair, to speak out about what they said was a corporate takeover of local news.
“We are out here because we believe that local news should be produced locally,” said Katie Chao, from the group Progressive Schenectady. “If not, there should be a disclaimer.”
Many of the protesters held signs as cars drove by and honked their horns. The signs had messages such as “Free Liz,” Free WRGB,” “News, Not Propaganda,” “Don’t Watch Fake News,” and “Honk if you love free press.”
Some CBS6 employees could be seen staring out the windows as the protesters turned their signs around so they could see. A CBS6 videographer even got footage of the protest.
CBS6 is The Daily Gazette’s newsgathering partner.
The station did not return a request for comment.
Sinclair acquired the station from Freedom Communications in 2011. The television station is considered one of the oldest in the county as it started with experimental broadcasts produced by General Electric researchers in 1928. It was commercially licensed in 1942.
The demonstration was put on by several activist groups, including Progressive Schenectady, Saratoga Unites, Indivisible 19 and Altamont Main Street USA and several others.
The purpose was to ask for more transparency from Sinclair because they said it forces local news stations to air content produced by the company.
Tina Lee, of Progressive Schenectady, said the Deadspin video showed anchors reading a script that proved to be deceptive.
“Based on the montage of the different affiliates, it seemed sneaky to make it look like they were ad libbing or speaking honestly,” Lee said. “Then you see the montage and you realize they’re all saying the same thing.”
Other protesters said they just want the station to produce local content and not air something from a company trying to push what some said was a conservative agenda.
“Transparency for when things come from a corporate source is important,” Chao said. “Otherwise, it’s propaganda.”
David Smith, executive chairman of Sinclair, has his own views about the greater media landscape.
In an interview with New York Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer earlier this month, Smith said newspapers and magazines lean too far to the left.
“The print media is so left wing as to be meaningless dribble which accounts for why the industry is and will fade away,” Smith said in the interview. “Just no credibility.”
The protesters said on Thursday another reason for the demonstration was to raise awareness about Sinclair and its actions.
“I think a lot of people are not aware that some local news stations run corporate segments from Sinclair,” Chao said
While many of the protesters asked for transparency in their news coverage, one protester asked more of CBS6’s employees.
“Anyone who professes to be a journalist should refuse to read from a biased script handed to them by their company,” said Karen MackWaters, who was there with Indivisible 518: Justice For All. “It’s a corporation with an agenda.”
Lee said she would just like to see local newscasters to be able to just do their jobs. She also said what Sinclair is doing is part of a bigger issue.
“Freedom of the press is being threatened by companies like Sinclair,” Lee said. “[Sinclair] is trying to build a monopoly and its trying to force local newscasters to share the Sinclair message, rather than doing their jobs as journalists.”