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Allbritton Makes Case To Shield The Politico

Washington – Allbritton Communications said in a recent meeting with Federal Communications Commission officials that its ownership of The Politico newspaper isn’t a violation of a media cross-ownership rule that the agency could be just a few weeks from repealing in whole or in part.

Allbritton owns the ABC affiliate WJLA-TV in the Washington, D.C. market.

In January, the company made headlines by launching The Politico with an all-star cast of political reporters, editors and writers lured away from such established media outlets such as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

In 1975, the FCC banned the common ownership of a TV station and a newspaper in the same local market. In a Nov. 5 meeting, a top Allbritton executive told FCC officials that the WJLA-Politico combination fell outside the rule because The Politico is a “specialized” newspaper “currently published three days per week” while the FCC rule pertained to “newspapers of general circulation.”

In print and on the Internet, The Politico competes with The Hill and Roll Call on news from Capitol Hill and with the national media on news from presidential campaign trail.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin, a Republican appointee of President Bush, has long opposed the broadcast-newspaper rule. But it is unclear whether Martin favors a total or just partial repeal limited to the country’s largest population centers. Despite strong opposition from House and Senate Democrats, Martin is hoping to modify the current rule at Dec. 18 meeting.

In 2003, the FCC substantially relaxed the broadcast –newspaper rule, only to be overturned by a federal appeals court a year later.

Allbritton pointed out to the FCC officials that the court also stayed the FCC’s determination that it would not prohibit a TV station from starting a new daily newspaper in the mostly small markets where the broadcast-newspaper ban would continue to apply.