Papers Join Waiver Effort

Jul 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

A petition by the prospective new ownership of the Tribune Co. to retain the company’s same-market TV stations and newspapers after the sale has sparked a couple of similar waiver requests.

Frustrated by the Federal Communications Commission’s lengthy re-examination of its media ownership rules—including the cross-ownership rule preventing one company from owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market—newspaper owners Gannett Co. and Media General are requesting either permanent waivers of the cross-ownership rule or waivers until the FCC finishes its review.

Gannett filed its request as part to a bid to re-license KPNX-TV in Mesa, Ariz., while keeping the Arizona Republic. Media General’s request covers several of its properties, including holdings in Tampa, Fla., and Florence, S.C.

Gannett in its request said forcing it to divest either the station or the newspaper would be “unduly harsh.”

The Newspaper Association of America also offered comments, contending there is little evidence that one company owning the newspaper and TV station in a market hurts consumers and a lot of evidence to the contrary.

Consumer groups have fought cross-ownership changes, arguing that a single owner lessens the number of independent media voices available to consumers.

Tribune Co. and Sam Zell, who’s taking the company private via an employee stock ownership plan, filed their waiver requests in connection with their $8.2 billion deal.

The United Church of Christ and the Media Alliance petitioned the FCC to bar any transfer of any licenses, arguing the company knew of the cross-ownership rule when making the deals, and the rule should be enforced.

The groups also said temporary waivers in some of the markets, granted after Tribune bought Times Mirror, have expired, leaving Tribune with no valid licenses to transfer.

In their FCC filing, the challengers said the new waiver requests from other media companies heighten the potentially precedent-setting danger of Tribune’s waiver request.

Tribune has argued its cross-ownership occurs in “five of the most diverse markets in the country, with numerous traditional and nontraditional media outlets competing for advertisers as well as viewers, listeners and readers.”

Mr. Zell, in a separate filing, said, “Nowhere in their petition do [the groups] demonstrate that the grant would cause them or any other person harm,” adding the challengers “have set forth no credible or sustainable reason to delay or deny the proposed transfer of control.”

One Comment

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