FCC waiver grants Tribune wide sway

Aug 19, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In a behind-the-scenes boon to Tribune, the Federal Communications Commission has given the company a waiver to combine the operations of WBZL-TV in Miami and the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in nearby Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Under the FCC’s newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership prohibition, joint ownership of a daily newspaper and a broadcast station in the same market is usually forbidden.
But Tribune has been permitted to hold both properties under temporary waivers from the FCC since 1996, when it acquired the TV station from Renaissance Communications.
As part of a deal with the agency at the time, Tribune vowed to operate each property separately, at least until the FCC concluded long-pending proceedings to determine whether to scrap or revise its newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership regulations.
But in an order released earlier this month, Ken Ferree, the FCC’s Media Bureau Chief, axed the condition requiring separate operations. “Based on Tribune’s representations, elimination of the hold-separate requirement may result in greater diversity if Tribune is able to produce a new local newscast,” Mr. Ferree said. “On balance, therefore, we conclude that the hold-separate requirement advances no current public interest purpose.”
According to the FCC, Tribune had argued that the condition was impeding its ability to offer a competitive local news service in a community where NBC-owned WTVJ-TV) has a joint sales and programming agreement under which it broadcasts its local news on Paxson Communications’ WPXM-TV.
Tribune said NBC, which recently acquired WSCV-TV in Fort Lauderdale from Telemundo, has a content-sharing agreement with the Miami Herald’s Spanish-language edition.
To top it all off, under a deal cut by Tribune, WBZL’s news is being produced by the NBC station, using the NBC station’s anchors, reporters and staff. That means that NBC is now producing the news for four of the market’s stations-WTVJ, WPXM, WSCV and WBZL.
To make a bizarre situation even weirder, Tribune said its Sun-Sentinel is sharing content with CBS-owned WFOR-TV in the market.
According to the FCC, Tribune said that if the condition were eliminated it could produce a new 30-minute newscast “drawing on the extensive news-gathering resources of the Sun-Sentinel, rather than rely on recycled news programming from another television station.”
Cheryl Leanza, deputy director of the activist Media Access Project, said the FCC’s decision was “egregious,” in part because the FCC has yet to decide what to do about the cross-ownership rule.
“Granting this additional waiver is inappropriate at the least,” she said.