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Media Activists Ask FCC to Reconsider Tribune Waivers

The United Church of Christ and the Media Alliance asked the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider its decision to grant the transfer of control of Tribune's TV assets to investor Sam Zell and Tribune shareholders, as well as its decision to renew the license of Tribune's KTLA Los Angeles, saying that the commission unfairly ignored its challenges to the sale and that KTLA waiver was arbitrary and capricious, granted without a request and without a proper showing of fact.

The move does not affect the sale to Zell, said Andrew J. Schwartzman of Media Access Project, who was one of the attorneys filing the petition. Instead, he added, it was the requisite next procedural step the groups have to take before they can take the waiver decision to court.

In a petition for reconsideration filed Dec. 31 at the FCC, the UCC and the Media Alliance argued that the commission improperly denied standing to the groups in their challenges to the transfer of licenses in Hartford, Conn.; Los Angeles; and Chicago. The FCC said the groups did not have standing to challenge since they did not provide sworn declarations from residents in the relevant markets.

The groups countered that they filed uncontested sworn declarations that they had qualified members in the markets, and that the "commission has routinely and repeatedly afforded standing to challenge multistation assignments and transfers based on a single declaration from a national organization attesting to the fact that they have members residing in the communities of license."

They are also challenging the FCC's grant of a permanent waiver, which they said Tribune didn't even ask for, to own both the Chicago Tribune newspaper and Tribune's broadcast properties in Chicago.

The FCC granted Tribune two-year temporary waivers in four markets where it owned TV stations and newspapers and a fifth permanent waiver in Chicago, a market where the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership had been grandfathered for more than 30 years as part of an earlier decision. The waivers were granted in advance of a December FCC vote to loosen the broadcast cross-ownership rules -- a move that would obviate the need for a waiver for all but one of the Tribune cross-ownerships.

The FCC wrote the Tribune waivers in such a way as to ensure that they remained in force during any legal challenges, making the length of the waiver two years or six months after the resolution of any litigation surrounding the waivers. Tribune almost immediately sued the FCC because it had not granted permanent waivers.