While the FCC continues its series of public hearings on possible revisions to its multiple ownership rules, the issue of newspaper-broadcast cross ownership is now squarely before the FCC in a number of proceedings. For instance, in the applications proposing a transfer of control of the Tribune Company, waiver requests have been filed in the markets where the company owns both newspaper and broadcast properties. These markets include some of the largest television markets in the country including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. As the current rules prohibit the ownership of a daily paper and either a radio or television station in the same market, Chicago, where Tribune owns radio, TV and newspaper properties and has done so for many years, asks for waivers for both stations. The FCC just designated the application for transfer of control of the Tribune Company as a permit but disclose proceeding, meaning that parties can talk to the FCC decision makers about the case, as long as they file a written disclosure statement with the FCC for inclusion in the record of the case.
Also, press reports note that the petitions to deny have been filed against applications for the renewal of Fox’s television stations in New York, arguing that the combination of Fox’s television stations in the market with the ownership of the New York Post is not in the public interest.
Seemingly, the proposed purchase of the Wall Street Journal by News Corporation, the owners of Fox, if it were to ever come to fruition, would at least be reviewed by the FCC, as the Journal is published in New York, where Fox owns television stations. However, FCC precedent established when Gannett purchased a Washington, DC TV station, in the same market where USA Today is published, would seem to set a precedent for the treatment of a specialized national newspaper like the Journal. While published in New York, the Journal really is national in scope – and not focused on local news, sports, entertainment or advertisers in the same manner that a local newspaper would be.
It is interesting that the newspaper-broadcast issue still is being considered by the FCC. In its 2003 Ownership Order, the FCC allowed newspaper broadcast cross-ownership in all but the smallest TV markets. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, when reviewing the Commission’s decision, seemed to agree that the broadcast-newspaper cross ownership rules were outdated and should be substantially relaxed, but the Court did not like the methodology used by the FCC to consider in which markets such relaxation should be allowed. Since the Court’s order in 2004, the issue has stalled, pending at the FCC with the remainder of the multiple ownership proceeding.
Look for these combinations to stay in place while the FCC continues its consideration of the multiple ownership rules. As some relaxation seems to be in store, and as combinations once broken up are difficult to reassemble, the Commission would likely not break up these long-standing combinations while rules which would make them permissible are pending.