The FCC is approving the transfer of broadcast licenses to the new ownership of Tribune Company as it emerges from bankruptcy. It will also allow the Chicago triple-threat media cluster – WGN-AM, WGN-TV and the Chicago Tribune – to remain intact permanently. Four others are good for another year on waiver.
There is a chance some or all of the other combinations, all of which are television/newspaper cross-ownership arrangements, will get a permanent lease on life as well, depending on the fate of the latest attempt of the FCC to make changes stick under a quadrennial review. The latest attempt is in circulation on the FCC’s 8th Floor at this time.
The combos getting a year are WPIX and Newsday in the New York; KTLA and the Los Angeles Times in Los Angeles; WSFL and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Miami-Ft. Lauderdale; and WTIC/WCCT and the Hartford Courant in Hartford-New Haven.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said, “I am pleased that the long-standing Tribune matter is moving forward. The Media Bureau is correct to reinstate Tribune’s waivers of the obsolete newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban. The outdated ban itself should be eliminated because the record indicates that it is likely undermining the public interest on several levels. Furthermore, the ban is more than likely an unconstitutional limitation on speech by restricting speakers’ access only to those platforms favored by the government. If this encroachment on First Amendment rights ever made sense in 1975 when it was codified, it no longer does in the face of today’s highly competitive, dynamic and fragmented media marketplace. Accordingly, no rules should exist to which waivers need to be granted. In that spirit, while such rules still reside on our books, the Commission should grant waivers permanently and not in miniscule one-year segments that require speakers to crawl back to the government for permission to speak. I look forward to working further with my colleagues on this important matter in the recently circulated media ownership order.”
Also weighing in was FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who commented, “While my preference would have been for the Media Bureau to grant the Tribune Company permanent waivers from the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule in the New York, Los Angeles, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, and Hartford-New Haven markets, I am nonetheless pleased with today’s Order. It facilitates the company’s exit from bankruptcy, grants Tribune a permanent waiver in the Chicago market, and allows the company to maintain its newspaper/broadcast combinations in the four other markets so that they may be examined under the new rule we are likely to adopt later this year. Given the financial conditions confronting the newspaper industry, we should be applauding companies that continue to operate daily newspapers rather than saddling them with artificial and outdated regulatory burdens.”