FCC Commissioner Challenges Waiver Talk

Apr 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

A member of the Federal Communications Commission is raising some additional worries for Tribune Co. in its sale to Sam Zell, saying the FCC shouldn’t be granting waivers to its newspaper-broadcast cross ownership ban just because it’s reviewing media ownership rules.

Republican commissioner Robert McDowell this morning made clear he wasn’t ruling out a waiver that would let Tribune keep WGN-TV as well as the Chicago Tribune, but said he doesn’t think a pending review of FCC rules is reason enough by itself to waive enforcement of the existing rule.

“While you are considering a rule change, it’s important for regulatory certainty and stability in a marketplace to preserve the status quo while you are considering,” he said, adding that he was talking generally about policy, and not specifically about Tribune.

The Tribune deal announced earlier this week expands Tribune’s issues with the FCC’s cross ownership rule to Chicago. As a result of the ownership change, Tribune loses its grandfathered exemption from the rule in Chicago. Tribune already faced battles on cross ownership in the four other markets where it owns both newspapers and broadcast stations-New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Hartford, Conn.

A Tribune Co. official said the company remained optimistic about getting any needed OKs because when an appellate court stayed the FCC’s last attempt to write media ownership rules, it said a change in the newspaper-broadcast ownership rule was “supported by record evidence” and “enhances localism” without harming diversity.

Mr. McDowell also said today that the FCC is near final approval of the TV violence study requested by Congress and that the report is likely to make recommendations and raise some questions. He hinted that one of the questions is whether any limits on violence should be directed at cable as well as broadcast TV.

The commissioner said he would give broadcasters a C- grade on violent content. However, he also has concerns about the constitutionality of any regulatory steps.

“We need to give thoughtful consideration to the constitutional implications,” he said. “These are uncharted constitutional waters.”

(Editor: Horowitz)