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Free Press Petitions To Deny Part of Tribune/Local TV Deal

Free Press, joined by Put People First Pennsylvania, has filed a petition to deny three of the license transfers in Tribune's $2.7 billion purchase of Local TV's 19 stations, the biggest deal in a year increasingly full of them.

And should the commission decide to approve the whole deal, including those three, or any part of the transaction, says Free Press, it should condition the grant on the outcome of its proposed elimination of the UHF discount. Without that discount, says Free Press, the combined Tribune/Local TV stations would reach 44% of the country, 5% over the FCC's national 39% cap. FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn has circulated an item that would propose lifting the 50% discount on UHF station coverage, but it is unclear when that will be voted on and an order finally produced if it is approved.

"This deal is just one in the wave of consolidation that would result in fewer viewpoints on the airwaves and fewer journalists on the beat," said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. "It would violate the Commission's cross-ownership bans, with covert consolidation contracts working to combine newsrooms. The FCC should block these transactions to protect and promote local journalism."

Free Press wants the FCC to deny transfers for three stations that have to be spun off to comply with the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban (WTKR-TV and WGNT-TV Norfolk/Portsmouth/Newport News, Va. and WNEP-TV Wilkes-Barre/Scranton/Hazelton, Pa.). The stations are being spun off to Dreamcatcher, which is run by former Tribune president Ed Wilson, with Tribune providing various services -- technical, back office, distribution help -- through shared services agreements.

The FCC has not ruled those to be violations of cross-ownership caps, but Free Press says they violate the spirit of the rules.

"Tribune would control the Dreamcatcher stations and daily newspapers that serve the same communities as these stations, thereby violating the Newspaper Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule," said Free Press in its petition.

Free Press last month filed a petition to deny some of the transfers in Gannett's proposed $2.2 billion purchase of the Belo stations (another one of those proliferating "super group" deals, citing similar concerns).