FCC papers limits

Commish will not lift TV cross-ownership ban

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission told a federal court here this week that it is not planning to rescind the ban on owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market — signaling once again that it is not bearish on further relaxation of broadcast ownership rules.

The announcement comes in response to a lawsuit filed by the Tribune Co., which has asked the court to order the FCC to extend a temporary waiver of the newspaper/TV cross-ownership ban. Tribune needs the waiver so it can continue to hold both the Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel and WDZL Miami. Under the FCC’s market definitions, both the newspaper and the TV station are in the same market.

Tribune already owned the Sun Sentinel when it purchased WDZL and five other stations from Renaissance Communications last March for $1.1 billion. Unless the court intervenes, Chicago-based Tribune will have to sell either WDZL or the Ft. Lauderdale paper by March 22.

“We are back to where we were when we went to court,” said Tribune Washington VP Shaun Sheehan. Sheehan said Tribune will continue its legal efforts to force the FCC to throw out the newspaper/TV cross-ownership rule or least extend the temporary one-year waiver.

In the 22-year history of the newspaper/TV cross-ownership ban, the FCC has granted few permanent waivers to rule. The notable exception is the waiver granted to News Corp. to own both the New York Post and WNYW New York.

Since taking over the commission last month with three brand-new colleagues, FCC chairman Bill Kennard has repeated in public his concern about further ownership concentration in the broadcast industry. Last week four of the five commissioners issued statements expressing their concerns about the low level of minority ownership among broadcasters. Kennard has said that further relaxation of ownership rules, while allowing big broadcasters to get bigger, would make it more difficult for minorities, women and small businesses to build a stake in broadcast properties.

Although the FCC said it has no specific plans to review the newspaper/TV cross-ownership ban, it did note that it is embarking on a congressionally mandated biennial review of all its broadcast regulations. That review is scheduled to be completed by next summer.

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