Justice Dept. Seeks More Info on Gannett-Belo TV-Station Deal

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has asked for more information about Gannett’s $2.2 billion acquisition of Belo’s TV station group, the companies said in a joint statement.

The second request means that the deal, which would create a 43-station “super group,” did not get early termination of its Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust review from the Justice Department, which usually handles reviews of TV-station transfers. Antitrust reviews are divided between the DOJ and the Federal Trade Commission.

That second request is in contrast to the Justice Department's early termination of its antitrust review of Sinclair Broadcast Group's $373 million purchase of Fisher Communications-owned TV stations in May and its approval of Tribune Broadcasting’s $2.7 billion purchase of Local TV in July. Early termination means the DOJ has no antitrust issues that would prompt it to impose conditions or sue to block the deal outright.

"Gannett and Belo will respond promptly to the Second Request and continue working cooperatively with the DOJ as it conducts its review of the proposed transaction," the station groups said said, adding that they still expect the deal to close by the end of 2013.

 The FCC has to approve the deal as well. It opened a public docket (No. 13-189) on Gannett's proposed purchase of Belo TV stations to solicit public comment after separate petitions to deny portions of the deal were filed by some cable and satellite operators.

Merger deals that fall above a specific monetary threshold must be submitted for antitrust review, which triggers a 30-day waiting period before they can proceed. Either Justice or the FTC can terminate that review early or, as in this case, make a "second request" for information on the deal if they determine that "further inquiry is necessary."

In a press release, Gannett and Belo characterized the second request as a "standard part" of the review process.

While it is standard in the sense that it is part of the formal review if early termination is not granted, according to a source at the FTC, only 3% of deals require that second request.

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.