The legal wrangling between Marshall Broadcasting Group (MBG) and Nexstar Media Group is set to take a new turn, with oral arguments in a lawsuit between the two companies scheduled to begin in New York State Supreme Court on Monday, September 9, 2019.
MBG filed the lawsuit in April, and accused Nexstar of trying to torpedo its efforts to operate independently.
“Nexstar is a bully, and sometimes you have to hit back at bullies,” Pluria Marshall Jr., MBG president and CEO, told Urban Hollywood 411 in a phone interview.
“We would like, for lack of a better term, due process,” Marshall added.
Nexstar sold MBG three small market TV stations — KPEJ-TV in Odessa, TX; KMSS-TV in Shreveport, LA.; and KLJB-TV in Rock Island, IL — in 2014, after being forced to divest some of its assets because of Federal Communications Commission ownership rules, as it looked to win government approval for other acquisitions.
The lawsuit alleges Nexstar — one of the largest local TV operators in the country — is now scheming to get the stations back in hopes that it will face fewer regulatory rules under President Trump’s administration than it did when President Obama was in the White House.
MBG said when it filed the lawsuit that Nexstar chose the company as buyer because it knew the FCC would look favorably on a sale to a minority-owned entity, as the government sought to increase diversity among commercial television ownership ranks.
As part of obtaining FCC approval, Nexstar agreed to guarantee MBG’s credit for five years. But MBG alleges the media giant tried to withdraw its financial support early.
The lawsuit additionally accuses Nexstar of trying to “sabotage” operations at the three TV stations to diminish their value and buy them back at bargain-basement prices.
After slapping Nexstar with a lawsuit on April 3, MBG submitted a complaint letter to the FCC on May 12.
MBG said as part of a proposed Joint Service Agreement and Shared Services Agreement, Nexstar pledged to help create programming specific to audiences of color, but then reneged after getting its $500 million deal approved.
“Despite promising that it would provide the financial and technical assistance to allow MBG to create such programming, Nexstar has withheld the promised assistance, blocking the creation of the diverse programming touted by Nexstar in its proposal to the FCC,” MBG said in a statement through its attorneys. “Despite the fact that MBG independently produced the minority-oriented public affairs program Nexstar promised to syndicate, Nexstar never syndicated the program.”
Nexstar declined comment for this story. But in an April statement, the media giant brushed aside the allegations in MBG’s lawsuit and called them “spurious.”
“The allegations made by MBG in its lawsuit against the company are spurious and without merit. The company intends to vigorously defend itself regarding this matter in a court of law,” Nexstar said at the time.
As its lawsuit heads to court, MBG is getting support in Washington, D.C. from Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La), the immediate past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Richmond, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice in July, expressing concerns that Nexstar’s alleged practices “may be having a negative impact on a smaller, minority-owned broadcaster.”
The Congressman’s letter urged the DOJ’s antitrust division to “investigate the practices like those alleged in MBG’s complaint with the FCC.”
Asked what it hoped to accomplish with Richmond’s help, MBG said the following through its attorneys: “MBG’s message to all with whom we met is that Nexstar made promises to the FCC and the public, under the guise of diversity to get the deal approved, yet they have continued to undermine MBG’s business and undercut its authority, with little regard for the commitments they made to MBG, the FCC and Congress.”