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Sinclair asks FCC to waive deadline

Sinclair Broadcasting Wednesday asked the FCC to put on ice an August 6 deadline for severing ties to four stations the company operates but does not own.

Each station is in a market where Sinclair also owns a station outright: Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Charleston, S.C. and Charleston, W.V. The four so-called local marketing agreements violate FCC ownership rules forbidding one company from controlling two TV outlets in a market containing fewer than eight separately owned stations. Sinclair has challenged the eight-voice test in the federal appeals court in Washington and argues that the divestiture order should be delayed until the court's decision.

Oral arguments in the case won't be held until January 14 with a decision expected several months later. If the FCC refuses to stay the divestiture date, established when the FCC permitted duopolies in 1999, Sinclair said it would ask the court to force a delay. The company said it would suffer "irreparable injury" if forced to disassociate itself from stations in which it invested millions of dollars to add local news and improve facilities.

Sinclair also operates LMAs in Baltimore and Syracuse that might be forced to unwind as early as 2004 if the duopoly voice test is upheld. Those two LMAs were established before a November 1999 "grandfather" date and were given a five-year reprieve that can be extended on a cast-by case basis. - Bill McConnell