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Delay foils Fox bid for WGBS

Time has run out on Fox Inc.’s attempt to buy WGBS-TV Philadelphia from Combined Broadcasting for $ 57 million.

Fox was originally supposed to close the sale by Jan. 30. But the Federal Communications Commission delayed its approval of the purchase, and after extending the deadline once, Combined executives decided to walk away from the deal rather than extend the deadline again.

The deal was held up at the FCC because of a petition to deny the sale filed by the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. The petition claimed that Fox is in “flagrant violation” of FCC ownership rules prohibiting foreigners owning more than a 25% stake in a TV station.

Fox’s attempted purchase of WGBS-TV was controversial from the start. Paramount Broadcasting, which owns current Philadelphia Fox affil WTXF-TV, was livid when Fox said it was buying the Combined station. “Apparently Fox’s loyalty only recognizes the partnership nature of a network affiliate’s relationship when it is convenient to Fox’s own economic interest,” Paramount said last August when Fox announced its intentions.

Now it looks like Paramount will retain a Fox affil in Philadelphia, and will likely be knocking on WGBS’ door to see if the station would like to affiliate with the studio’s fifth network effort. If Paramount were to try to keep both Fox and its own network on the same station, that would be grounds for an affiliation removal.

It’s doubtful that Paramount would want to lose the Fox affiliation, especially in light of the weblet’s acquisition of National Football Conference rights, including Philadelphia Eagles broadcasts.

Now the question is whether the FCC will rule on the NAACP’s petition even though the deal is dead.

In its petition, the NAACP argued that even though Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch is a naturalized citizen, the stations are still under control of Australian-based Fox parent News Corp.

Fox has said it is in compliance with commission rules because News Corp. interest in Twentieth Holding Corp. — the holding company for the stations — is 24%, while Murdoch holds the remaining 76% voting interest. But the NAACP countered that News Corp. has “de facto control” of Twentieth Holding.

Fox executive VP Preston Padden did not return calls to comment on the current situation. Fox Inc. dismissed the NAACP’s charges when they were first raised.

David Honig, a lawyer for the NAACP, said he did not think the commission could just dismiss the charges because the deal died.

The charges may reappear soon. Although this deal is dead for now, Fox is expected to buy WFXT-TV Boston.

A Combined Broadcasting executive said WGBS was not going back on the market — at least for the time being.

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