Viacom Wants to Keep TV Stations

WASHINGTON-Claiming that broadcast-ownership limits are in legal limbo, media giant Viacom Inc. has asked the Federal Communications Commission to lift a deadline that requires it to sell TV stations in less than two months to comply with agency rules.

FCC rules limit a TV station owner to 35 percent of the nation's TV households. After acquiring CBS Corp., Viacom had an audience reach of 41 percent and was given until May 4, 2001 to get under the 35 percent cap.

In an "emergency request" filed March 9, Viacom asked the FCC to jettison the fast-approaching deadline. Should the agency fail to act by March 16, Viacom said, it plans to go to federal court to obtain the necessary relief.

Viacom made the filing a week after a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out a host of cable-ownership limits based on First Amendment and other concerns.

In light of the cable decision, Viacom told the FCC, "there is a substantial possibility" that the company and other TV-station owners would prevail in striking down the 35 percent broadcast-ownership rule.

Both NBC and Fox have challenged the 35 percent cap in the D.C. Circuit. Those networks quit the National Association of Broadcasters in protest over NAB's support for the limit.

Viacom said FCC relief was needed to preserve the status quo while the litigation is pending. The company said it should not be forced to sell stations "valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars" that a later court ruling might say was unnecessary.

"Such forced and irrevocable divestiture would undoubtedly constitute irreparable injury," Viacom told the FCC in its 31-page filing.