FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said he will ask for a vote this Friday which would grant waivers to Tribune to keep its cross-owned properties intact while Martin’s proposal to eliminate restrictions on such combinations in the top 20 markets winds its way through Washington’s obstacle course. That will give the commissioners three days to consider the measure and, if approved, will give Tribune the necessary window to get necessary approvals in place to enable its sale to a Sam Zell-led ESOP.
Martin plans to bring his proposal up at the FCC’s 12/18/07 Open Meeting, but said even if passed, he expected it would be tied up in litigation for an unknown amount of time. Therefore, he would grant Tribune waivers of two years or up to six months after the rules are finalized, whichever is longer.
If Martin’s rule change is adopted and survives court challenge, Tribune’s top 20 market combos would be legal. He would not speculate on whether the Hartford combo, ranked outside the top 20, would be included in the waiver package.
He also said that if it was solely his call, he would allow the grandfathered Chicago group, including the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV and WGN-AM, would continue to be grandfathered going forward.
Since no other companies with cross-owned properties are facing the kind of deadlines currently before Tribune, the action Friday will be directed at Tribune only. Other companies would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
Tribune Company Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis FitzSimons commented, "We are pleased with Chairman Martin’s proposal which, if approved, will enable Tribune’s going private transaction to close by the end of the year. This will allow Tribune’s local media outlets to continue their commitment to outstanding journalism and service to our readers, viewers, listeners and advertisers."
RBR/TVBR observation: Whatever your opinion on cross-ownership, it has always seemed to us that it would be grotesquely unfair to force fire sales of media properties due to a proceeding in which the outcome remains in question. Tying the waiver directly to the termination of the proceeding, one way or the other, is fair.