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Media Activists Seek Dismissal of Tribune’s FCC Waiver Challenge

Media activists asked the D.C. Court of Appeals to dismiss Tribune's challenge of the Federal Communications Commission's decision to grant it waivers of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule.

Tribune asked the commission for indefinite waivers and instead got two-year waivers, or six months after the end of any litigation over the waivers. At the time, FCC Democrats saw that as giving Tribune an invitation to take the entire rule to court, which it proceeded to do only days later.

While that gave Tribune the regulatory certainty it needed to complete its deal to sell itself to investor Sam Zell and Tribune stockholders -- a deal the FCC approved at the same time it granted the waivers -- it also appeared to provide the company its chance to challenge the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule in its entirety since Tribune did not get all it had asked for.

Less than three weeks after granting the Tribune waivers, the commission voted to loosen, but not lift, the cross-ownership ban. In fact, it granted the waivers in anticipation of the rule change, which would pave the way for four of the five newspaper-broadcast cross-ownerships in a single market for which Tribune had needed the waivers of the old rule.

The United Church of Christ and the Media Alliance, represented by Media Access Project, filed the motion Tuesday to dismiss Tribune's challenge, saying that since the FCC had granted the transfer of control application to Zell et. al., the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case.

They also argued that the issue, which Tribune raised, of whether the cross-ownership rule is arbitrary and capricious is not ripe for review and should be reviewed in the Third Circuit in Philadelphia at any rate since it was in response to that court's remand that the FCC loosened the rule.

And they said Tribune would suffer no hardship from the dismissal since the FCC waiver gave it sufficient time to seek permanent waivers under the FCC's new rules.

It has been a busy January on the Tribune waiver legal front. MAP earlier this month asked the FCC to reconsider its waiver decision. It also asked the D.C. Circuit Jan. 4 to hold the case in abeyance, essentially calling a time out in the scheduling of briefs. Tribune opposed that move, and replies are due next week, as is the reply to Tribune's opposition to MAP's request that the FCC reconsider its decision. Got that?

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.