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Tribune Petitions FCC for Waiver

May 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The Tribune Employee Stock Ownership Plan is asking the Federal Communications Commission to let it keep the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and the Los Angeles Times, as well as WGN-TV, WPIX-TV and KTLA-TV and several of its other newspapers and TV stations, pending the FCC adopting new media-ownership rules.
In filings Tuesday made necessary by Tribune Co.’s $8.2 billion sale to Sam Zell and the ESOP, the company argues that its TV stations operate in competitive media markets and that the FCC has already decided once that newspaper-broadcast cross ownership limits are “no longer in the public interest” as part of media ownership rules. The cross-ownership rule bars companies that own a broadcast station or newspaper in a market from buying each other.
The ownership rules were set aside by an appellate court and never took effect. However, Tribune pointed to the court’s suggestion that the cross ownership change could be justified in its request for the FCC to grant it a waiver to keep the stations until it finalizes a new set of media-ownership rules.
“Tribune is entitled to the requested waiver as the commission endeavors to fulfill its decade-long commitment to revise the rule to be consistent with today’s marketplace,” Tribune argues in its filing.
The latest filing reflects two sets of cross-ownership problems for Tribune. First Tribune bought the former Times Mirror Co. in 2000, giving the company TV stations and newspapers in Los Angeles, Hartford, Conn., and the Miami area that violate the cross ownership ban. Zell’s purchase of Tribune added Chicago to the list, eliminating the exemption Tribune had held there because it owned WGN and the Tribune before the ban took effect.
In separate filings on each market, Tribune argues that having joint ownership benefits consumers in the markets and doesn’t affect advertisers. It also cites growing competition, including with the Internet.
“The combination of WPIX and Newsday has not measurably or adversely affected diversity or competition,” Tribune argues.
Consumer groups have promised to fight any FCC waiver, arguing Tribune should be forced to follow the current FCC rules and that combinations of broadcast and newspapers in a market give viewers and readers fewer independent news sources.
(Editor: Horowitz)

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