Working on a waiver

Murdoch offers minority funding for support

WASHINGTON — Rupert Murdoch has offered more than $100 million in seed money for minority investment in broadcast properties if several key public-interest groups agree to support a waiver that would allow him to exceed the Federal Communications Commission’s ownership caps.

News Corp. lobbyists are hoping an agreement can be worked out that would result in minority endorsement of a waiver that would allow Fox stations to exceed the 35% cap on national audience reach. San Francisco-based Mother Jones magazine first reported the talks on its Web site Monday.

Sources close to the deal confirmed the substance of the Mother Jones report but none would go on record, citing the sensitivity of the ongoing talks.

Sticking point

More than one participant in the negotiations said the sticking point is the total amount News Corp. would contribute to a foundation dedicated to increasing minority ownership. The starting point for the talks is $100 million, said one source.

Murdoch is hoping to capitalize on FCC chairman William Kennard’s call for broadcasters to come up with creative ways to increase minority ownership, which is now below 3%. Kennard, who is the first African-American chairman of the FCC, has framed the minority ownership issue as one of the defining issues of his tenure.

In addition to Kennard, two other FCC commissioners, Gloria Tristani and Michael Powell, have said that increasing minority ownership is one of their key concerns. Powell is African-American and Tristani is Hispanic. The three commissioners constitute a majority of the five-member FCC — increasing the chances that a waiver that focuses on increasing minority ownership could win the agency’s blessing.

But just because three of the five commissioners have stated that they favor increases in minority ownership, there is no guarantee any deal will fly. Just last week, the FCC rejected a request from minority controlled Granite Broadcasting for a waiver to the ban on owning more than one TV station in the San Francisco market.