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Sinclair makes initial duopoly argument

FCC restrictions on TV duopolies and local marketing agreements lack "any rational foundation," Baltimore's Sinclair Broadcasting is telling federal judges.

The TV station group is challenging an FCC rule barring one company from controlling two stations in the same market if fewer than eight separately owned stations would remain after the deal. Sinclair told the federal appeals court in Washington that the FCC has failed to explain why eight is the appropriate number for meeting the government's goal of ensuring diversity of local media voices.

The comments were part of a court filing issued Monday. Sinclair would be forced to unwind LMAs in Columbus and Dayton, Ohio; Charleston, S.C. and Charleston, W.V. if the eight-voice test is upheld. LMAs allow an owner to operate another company's station and most were established to get around the FCC's outright ban on owning two stations in a market.

The eight-voice test replaced the duopoly ban in 1999. Even though operators don't actually own their LMA partner stations, the FCC's attribution rules generally count them towards a company's ownership tally. Sinclair insists the voice test is a drastic solution that fails the U.S. Supreme Court's "strict scrutiny" test, which requires infringements on free speech rights to be tailored narrowly as possible.

If the voice-test idea is upheld, the company says the standard also should include other media outlets in a market too, such as radio stations, newspapers and cable systems. Oral arguments are scheduled Jan. 14.
- Bill McConnell