Tribune Co. Appeals Waiver Rejection

Dec 6, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Tribune Co. and its buyer are launching an attack on the constitutionality of the Federal Communications Commission’s cross-ownership rule days after the FCC rejected the company’s request for permanent waivers to the rule’s bar on newspapers and broadcasters buying each other in the same city.
In appeals filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, both Tribune Co. and the ownership group that includes investor Sam Zell and an employee stock ownership plan contend that the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule “is unconstitutional in violation of the First and Fifth Amendment.”
Newspaper publishers have been talking about trying to overturn the cross-ownership rules for years and for Tribune it’s a second attempt. Publishers argue the rule is outdated and unfair in light of growing local competition for readers and ads from new media and Internet sites that didn’t exist when the rule was enacted more than 30 years ago.
Just yesterday, John Sturm, president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America, told a House committee that the only people who can’t own a local TV station are “foreigners, convicted felons and newspaper publishers.” Mr. Sturm argued that it’s unfair to let everyone else buy each other in a market, but block newspaper publishers from effectively competing in the new marketplace.
Consumer groups have answered that the rule assures diverse local news choices. Despite new ways to tap into local content, they say consumers still get most of their local news local TV stations and newspapers. Combining the providers would lessen choices and threaten civic dialog, they say.
Tribune and its buyer had wanted the FCC to issue permanent waivers to its cross-ownership rule so the company could keep TV stations and newspapers in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Hartford and South Florida despite Tribune’s $8.2 billion sale to Mr. Zell and the employee group.
Instead the FCC gave a permanent waiver for the company to keep WGN-TV and WGN-AM and the Chicago Tribune, but rejected waivers in the other markets.
The FCC on Dec. 18 is slated to vote on a proposal from Chairman Kevin J. Martin that would replace the current ban on publishers buying broadcasters. Under the proposal, publishers in the top 20 markets could generally buy a station that isn’t among the local market’s top four, but could only buy in smaller markets with some evidence that the combination would benefit communities. Consumer groups have warned that with few standards to judge benefits the proposal would essentially kill the rule.
Tribune owns the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV; Newsday and WPIX-TV in New York; the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale and WSFL-TV in Miami; and, in Hartford, Conn., the Hartford Courant and TV stations WTIC-TV and WTXX-TV.
(Editor: Gilbert)


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