Sinclair takes FCC to court


Tribune Company is challenging the FCC’s 20-market relaxation of broadcast/print cross-ownership rules, saying it didn’t go far enough and should allow for such combinations anywhere. Watchdogs have said even the 20-market easement is too much and figure to challenge it as going too far. Now Sinclair Broadcast Group is challenging on grounds the rulemaking did nothing to relax television duopoly rules.

The earlier attempt by the Michael Powell FCC on  6/2/03 would have made television duopolies much easier to put together — and even that attempt was viewed by many in the broadcast community as too restrictive. Although it would have allowed three-station television combos in the very largest markets, it would have barred any combination involving more than one top-four station anywhere, effectively eliminating the possibility of forming a duopoly in many smaller markets.

The Sinclair attempt to get the rules loosened is headed for the District Circuit, which has a long history of branding various and sundry FCC rules as arbitrary and capricious. However, the Powell rulemaking was remanded by the Third Circuit with an order to better justify the TV duopoly rule (and others). In view of the court’s seeming criticism of the rule and widespread public opposition voiced at several FCC forums, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin opted to leave the rules are they were with the exception of the limited cross-ownership dereg. The Third Circuit had actually offered praise for cross-owned combinations, but still found the underpinnings of the rulemaking justifying associated local ownership caps to be wanting.

Watchdog is already sounding the alarm about the Sinclair filing. Noting politically-oriented programming produced by the group, it said, "Regardless of your political affiliation, these kinds of actions highlight the power of one big company to influence elections and the need for independent voices and local owners. The fact that Sinclair is again trying to expand their reach and buy up more local stations in more communities should worry everyone."

TVBR/RBR observation: We’re still waiting to see if there is going to be a congressional intervention in this matter. Will the FCC/Capitol Hill/courtroom merry-go-round ever come to a halt? Stay tuned, if you dare.