Sinclair wins court ruling

Sinclair Broadcasting won't face an August 6 deadline to sever ties with four stations the company operates but does not own, thanks to an order Tuesday by the federal appeals court in Washington.

The divestiture date was imposed by the FCC in 1999 when it set restrictions for ownership of two TV stations in the same market. The four affected stations are in markets where the company 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 court and the judges Wednesday said no sale can be ordered until the case is resolved. Oral arguments in the case won't be held until January 14 with a decision up to several months later. The FCC previously had refused to issue a stay in the divestiture date.

The company said it would suffer "irreparable injury" if forced to disassociate itself from stations that it has 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. - Bill McConnell