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MIFFED OVER MIAMI

Tribune to fight FCC's Renaissance ruling

WASHINGTON — The Tribune Co. on Friday vowed to take the FCC to court after regulators ordered the company to spin off either a TV station or a newspaper in the Miami market as a condition of its $1.13 billion purchase of Renaissance Communications Corp.

If the merger is consummated, Tribune will own a total of 16 television stations, five radio stations and a handful of newspapers across the country. Although, the Federal Communications Commission approved the overall merger of the two companies, the agency turned down Tribune’s request for a waiver to the FCC rule that bars one company from owning a TV station and a newspaper in the same market.

Tribune already owns the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, which is considered to be in the same market as Renaissance’s WDZL-TV, which is based in Hollywood, Fla.

Bureaucratic mindset

“Anyone who thinks the seventh-rated TV station and a newspaper with no circulation presents a problem of ownership concentration is clearly a Washington bureaucrat,” Tribune’s Washington representative Shaun Sheehan said, adding, “We will take these facts directly to court.”

According to FCC documents, the Sun-Sentinel has a circulation of 265,818. Tribune argued that the Miami Herald, with a paid circulation of 359,103, is the dominant newspaper in the market and therefore its ownership of the Sun-Sentinel did not threaten advertising competition in the market.

Sheehan’s statement was supported by FCC commissioner James Quello, who wrote in a dissenting opinion, “The majority’s decision today relies on a newspaper-television ownership rule that, in my opinion, is outdated, over-regulatory, and too often flies in the face of common sense.”

Majority rules

But the majority at the FCC ruled that Tribune failed to prove that there were “exceptional” or “extraordinary” circumstances that would justify the waiver. The FCC has only approved two waivers to the newspaper cross-ownership rule in the past 20 years.

If Tribune holds on to the TV station, the deal will solidify its place as one of the nation’s top broadcasting groups, with an audience reach of 33.4%, which is on par with the reach of the major webs’ owned & operated stations. Tribune already is a powerhouse in the syndication business through its ownership of three independent stations in the top three markets.

The FCC did grant temporary waivers to its rule that bans the ownership of more than one TV station in areas where their broadcast signals overlap. The waiver was granted for WTIC Hartford and WPIX New York. Although the stations are not in the same market, their signals overlap in some areas. A similar waiver was granted in Pennsylvania, where Tribune will own WPHL Philadelphia and WPMT York. The FCC now is revisiting its ban on ownership of stations that have overlapping signals and has tentatively decided to take it off the books.

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