Watchdogs petition to break up Tribune TV/newspaper combos


Opponents of broadcast/newspaper cross-ownership have been trying to break up existing combinations operating under FCC waiver for years now, and have had numerous opportunities as the legality of such operations has been argued before various courts. The occasion for another broadside presented by the Tribune Corporation reorganization is no exception.

The group, which includes the Benton Foundation, Free Press, the United Church of Christ and others, believes that the combinations are illegal and should be busted up.

They further believe that Tribune is more interested in the financial well-being of its shareholders than the information needs of people in the markets they serve.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the coalition is hopeful to have a more receptive regulatory audience at the FCC and FTC under the Obama administration than it did during the eight years of Republican control that preceded it.

RBR-TVBR observation: Like clockwork every quarter, the FCC extends a request by interested parties to institute a blanket waiver for existing combos until such time as all pending court cases are resolved, a perfectly reasonable proposal.

This is particularly true right now, when newspapers face an existential threat due to a convergence of factors, notably fierce new competition from internet news services, an inability to make inroads into younger demographics and a major general economic slump.

It is unfair to force a company to sell off properties under fire sale conditions at any time while pertinent regulation is pending and under review, and especially now when signals from the courts indicate a strong possibility that the legality of such combinations may well be upheld.

And to force the fire sale of a newspaper in the current economy almost amounts to homicide. Regardless of the fate of the Tribune reorganization, whether it gets thumbs up or thumbs down, the cross-owned combos should remain intact until those rules are finalized.