The FCC’s Media Bureau gave Tribune a permanent waiver so it can continue to own a TV station and newspaper in Chicago, and temporary ones so it can ignore the government’s cross-ownership restrictions in New York, Los Angeles, South Florida and Hartford. The decisions “will enable the company to continue moving forward toward emergence from Chapter 11, a process we expect to complete over the course of the next several weeks,” CEO Eddy Hartenstein says. It also could set a precedent if News Corp — which also owns TV stations in LA and Chicago — decides to buy the Los Angeles Times or Chicago Tribune. Tribune owns 23 TV stations and eight newspapers, and would like to sell some assets to stabilize its finances. Rupert Murdoch is intrigued by the possibility of picking up some major newspapers once News Corp splits its publishing operation off into a separate, publicly traded company.
The FCC’s move closely follows Chairman Julius Genachowski’s effort to scrap or significantly weaken the TV-newspaper cross-ownership rules as regulators prepare a major revamp of their media ownership regulations. The commission is expected to address the issue in December. Although the details of his proposal are officially still under wraps, the FCC’s two Republicans used the Tribune decision to voice their support for a change. “The outdated ban itself should be eliminated because the record indicates that it is likely undermining the public interest on several levels” including the First Amendment, Commissioner Robert McDowell said. Fellow Commissioner Ajit Pai added that with the newspaper industry in decline “we should be applauding companies that continue to operate daily newspapers rather than saddling them with artificial and outdated regulatory burdens.”