FCC Grants Tribune Sale, Permanent WGN Waiver
December 2, 2007 at 5:14 PM (PT)
The FCC late FRIDAY (11/30) granted the sale of TRIBUNE CO. to SAM ZELL, the TRIBUNE EMPLOYEE STOCK OWNERSHIP PLAN, and EGI-TRB, LLC. The grant includes time-limited waivers of two years (or six months after litigation, whichever comes later) for the company's crossownership of newspapers and TV stations in NEW YORK, LOS ANGELES, MIAMI, and HARTFORD and a permanent waiver in CHICAGO, where the company owns the CHICAGO TRIBUNE, the RED EYE daily tabloid, CW affiliate WGN-TV, and its only radio property, Talk WGN-A. The Commission granted the waiver due to the longstanding crossownership and unique size and diversity of the market.
Calling the grant "a brazen reversal of thirty years of settled precedent," Commissioner MICHAEL COPPS dissented, saying, "If this Order were a newspaper, the banner headline would read 'FCC Majority Uses Legal Subterfuge to Push for Total Elimination of Cross-Ownership Ban'.... (The order) denies the waiver request but offers an automatic (and unprecedented) waiver extension as soon as TRIBUNE runs to the courthouse door, lasting for two years or until the litigation concludes –- whichever is longer. Presto! TRIBUNE gets at least a two-year waiver plus the ability to go to court immediately and see if they can get the entire rule thrown out. And most important, TRIBUNE is not required to seek a hearing before the very court which expressly retained jurisdiction when it remanded the general newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban. Instead, TRIBUNE can end run the Third Circuit and petition for review before what it may hope is a more sympathetic court.
"The more I think about this approach, however, the more troubled I become. Publicly, the Chairman claims to want only a 'modest' relaxation of the cross-ownership ban. Privately, he enlists TRIBUNE as an accomplice to try and get the ban overturned in court. If the Chairman wants to eliminate the ban, he should stand up and say so. It’s time to end the charade."
Commissioner JONATHAN ADELSTEIN also dissented from the 3-2 party-line vote, saying, "While I disagree with the final decision in this case, I am more disappointed with the majority's disregard for Commission precedent and legacy. A simple two-year waiver would have accomplished the goals of the majority and the applicants. But instead, the Order employs certain novel, ill-advised and back-breaking legal gymnastics that will surely leave observers with their heads spinning."