FCC stands firm on cross ownership

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission is refusing to change course on its ban on owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market, much to Tribune Broadcasting Co.’s dismay.

In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), FCC chairman Bill Kennard said his agency was standing by its March 22 deadline, by which time Tribune must divest either WDZL-TV Miami or the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel.

Tribune is fighting the FCC ruling in court but in the meantime it has won an ally in McCain, who is urging the agency to give Tribune more time to ponder its options. McCain notes that the FCC must, by law, begin a review all of its ownership rules beginning June 1, just six weeks after the deadline. Tribune acquired WDZL in March through its $1.1 billion purchase of Renaissance Communications Corp.

Tribune wants to hold on to the newspaper and the TV station, but Kennard made his views on the matter clear in a Dec. 22 letter to McCain. “In Tribune’s case, the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban was in place at all times relevant to the transaction at issue, including when Tribune proposed to acquire WDZL Miami,” Kennard wrote, adding in the same letter, “So long as the newspaper broadcast ownership ban remains in effect, administrative law and practice dictate that the commission uphold it consistently.”

Needless to say, Tribune was not pleased with the FCC’s response. “I thought the politburo shut down several years ago,” said Tribune’s Washington rep Shawn Sheehan. “We have had a rule on the books for 22 years; we think the world has changed,” Sheehan added. In light of the FCC’s decision, Tribune plans to continue its legal effort to challenge the cross-ownership ban in federal court.

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