McCain applies pressure for cross-ownership redo

WASHINGTON — In a terse letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the powerful chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has asked the agency to take another look at the longstanding ban on owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same market.

The letter is good news to the Tribune Co., which is fighting an FCC order to divest either the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Sun Sentinel or WDZL Miami by March 22. According to the agency’s definition, the newspaper and the TV station are in the same market and thus violate the broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership ban.

Tribune acquired the station last year with five other stations from Renaissance Communications in a $1.1 billion deal.

McCain has made his feelings known about the rule; he introduced legislation to take it off the books.In his letter to FCC chairman Bill Kennard, McCain hinted that the FCC has made up its mind about the rule, even before it has begun its congressionally mandated review of ownership rules.

“It appears that a possibly unnecessary and unwarranted multimillion-dollar divestiture could occur either from staff inefficiency at best or from prejudgment inconsistent with the law at worst,” McCain wrote.

On Dec. 1, the FCC informed a federal court here that it had no inten-tion to review the newspaper/TV cross-ownership before March 22, the deadline for the divestiture. The FCC’s response angered Tribune and McCain because the agency must, by order of Congress, begin a review of all of its ownership rules by June 1. Tribune has asked the court for a temporary waiver until the FCC completes its examina-tion of the cross-ownership rule.

“We’re gratified,” said Tribune’s Washington representative Shawn Sheehan. “It’s pretty obvious that the FCC has gone into a four-corner stall.” If Tribune is forced to choose between its newspaper and TV station, it will sell the station, Sheehan said Tuesday.

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