Freedom sells television stations

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Freedom Communication, which owns the local daily The Gazette, will sell its television division to Sinclair Broadcast Group of Maryland.

The company’s flagship paper, The Orange County Register, is reporting that the $385 million deal will erase the debt owed by Freedom and its newspapers.

Freedom owns eight television stations, and the deal will close in four to six months, subject to Freedom shareholder, Federal Communications Commission and antitrust approval.

Management will then be free to concentrate on the 100 daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and other specialty publications, said CEO Mitchell Stern.

Freedom emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 with $325 million in debt.

“This is the final chapter of bankruptcy,” Stern said in the Orange County paper. “As a company essentially free of debt, Freedom will have greater financial flexibility allowing us to take advantage of opportunities that may arise in the future.”

Stern said Freedom will now focus on completing its transformation into a digital media company that goes beyond traditional print to take advantage of the technological innovations that can better serve readers and advertisers. He did not provide any specifics, saying that would come as the company refocuses on its publishing properties.

Sinclair is the nation’s ninth largest broadcasting group. The company owns and operates programs or provides sales services to 65 television stations in 39 markets. The stations currently reach 24 percent of U.S. households and include FOX, ABC, CBS, CW, NBC, MNT and Azteca affiliates.

The Freedom deal is Sinclair’s second announced acquisition in two months. In September, Sinclair said it would buy Four Points Media’s stations from Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. for $200 million.