Church Challenges Tribune on Conn. TV Stations

Mar 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

For the second time, opposition has arisen to the Tribune Co.’s bid to get license renewals for TV stations despite current FCC media cross-ownership limits.

This time the challenge is over two Hartford, Conn., stations – WTXX-TV, licensed to suburban Waterbury, and WTIC-TV.

As in the earlier challenge of Los Angeles station KTLA-TV, the biggest contention is that issuing new licenses would violate the FCC’s newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rules.

“Tribune’s continued double violation of the [cross-ownership rule] reduced the number and diversity of viewpoints that would otherwise be available,” the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ said in its FCC filing. It also suggested that Tribune’s three operations – the two TV stations plus daily newspaper the Hartford Courant – present “homogenized” news instead of competing news and points of opinion.

The fight stems from the Tribune Co.’s 2000 acquisition of The Times Mirror Co., which gave the company ownership of both stations and newspapers in several markets.

The FCC cross ownership rule, which the agency is reviewing, prevents a media company from owning both a newspaper and a broadcast station in a market; it also can prevent new licenses from being issued. The Connecticut TV stations’ eight-year licenses expire April 1.

Tribune contends the rule is badly out of date and doesn’t reflect the current media marketplace or the advantages viewers get. It contends viewers get better information from combined broadcast and print news operations and points to the plethora of other media choices available.

“We relish the opportunity to defend our record of public service and to finally bury this Nixon Administration rule as an affront to free speech,” said Shawn Sheehan, Tribune’s VP for Washington affairs.

The Hartford challenge has some additional complications.

The church group also questioned Tribune’s continued holding of two TV stations, noting the company had promised to sell at least one of them.

Tribune, which owned WTIC, acquired WTXX in 2001 as “a failing station” and got a six-month waiver of the cross-ownership rule on condition it sell at least one of the stations. It hasn’t, instead repeatedly getting extensions.

A court earlier refused to act to force the FCC to force the station’s sale.

Tribune has been hoping the FCC will change its cross ownership rules.

(Editor: Horowitz)