FCC Seeks Comment on WWOR Crossownership Waiver Extension

The FCC is seeking comment on whether to grant Fox Television Stations another temporary waiver of the newspaper/broadcast crossownership rule to continue to own WWOR Secaucus, N.J.

Fox has owned the station under a series of temporary waivers since 2001 so that it could own both WWOR and WNYW, as well as the New York Post. Fox already has a permanent waiver to own the paper and WNYW but has only gotten temporary waivers for the WWOR-New YorkPost crossownership, the most recent in August 2014 when the FCC renewed the license over opposition by various groups.

Last month, with that temporary waiver nearing its expiration (it actually expired March 1), Fox asked for the waiver to be kept in place until 90 days after the FCC has ruled on petitions by broadcasters to reconsider the FCC's decision in the quadrennial review last August under Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler. That decision was not to eliminate the newspaper-broadcast crossownership rule.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is no fan of the rule, and Fox is counting on that. "[A]s of January 20, 2017, the composition and leadership of the Commission has changed such that the two commissioners who supported elimination of the rule in the 2014 Quadrennial Review proceeding [Pai and Republican Michael O'Rielly] now form a majority of the Commission’s three members," it pointed out. 

Fox said that granting the temporary waiver would "allow the newly reconstituted Commission time to consider the status of the NBCO rule as part of the pending 2014 Quadrennial Review reconsideration proceeding without disrupting the highly competitive New York media marketplace or impairing the viability of diverse sources of information in the market."

While Fox sought a permanent waiver in 2014, it said this time around it made more sense to extend the temporary status given the Republican majority support for elimination rather than expend resources on a full-blown analysis of the waiver merits that might be mooted. "It would serve little purpose to expend resources taking up the merits of a permanent waiver request when the rule may be eliminated and – even if not eliminated – when the criteria that the Commission would use to consider a permanent request may well change as part of the reconsideration," Fox said.

The same groups that have been opposing the WWOR waiver for years—the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Free Press, and Voices for New Jersey—did so again, asking the FCC to deny the waiver request. They say Fox had gotten the original temporary waiver to give it time to comply with the rule, but "Fox has never sought to comply with the rule and instead, has managed to get several additional temporary waivers."

They asked for the FCC to seek comment on the request, saying they would have more to say on the subject in those comments.

The Media Bureau Thursday did just that, issuing a public notice to that effect, with initial comments due April 10, oppositions due April 25, and replies due May 2.

"Requiring public notice here would be consistent with Chairman Pai’s oft-stated goal to make the FCC more transparent and to ensure that the public has the same access as well-connected lobbyists," the Media Bureau said.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.