FCC and Tribune = FCC vs. Tribune?

Posted by Mitchell - May 22, 2007 (entry 543)

Here's the deal:

(1) The Tribune Company wants to keep its five TV-newspaper duopolies in Chicago, New York, L.A., South Florida, and Connecticut -- where the company owns a TV and newspaper in a city at the same time -- even though it's illegal to do so. The reason is clear: The Tribune is making a ton of money through cross-ownership (despite the havoc this wreaks on information flow and local control), and it's cheaper to lobby and pressure to try and change the law rather than conform to it.

(2) When the Tribune was sold in April to Chicago-area billionaire Sam Zell (and how that happened is a saga or blogpost all its own), the legal arrangements that the Tribune set up to own those duopolies become invalid, because current FCC rules say they're invalid.

(3) Nevertheless, the Tribune has asked the FCC to grant permission to keep those duopolies amidst the sale despite the FCC's own rules to the contrary. And to add additional pressure, Broadcasting & Cable reports that fourteen Illinois legislators have written a joint letter to the FCC to address the request "in a timely fashion".

B&C also reports that "The letter does not take a position on whether the waivers should be granted, but the legislators do point out that the FCC is in the midst of a years-long review of its media ownership rules."

A possible rewrite of the media ownership rules at play could still happen, but Big Media has already tried and walked down that Boulevard of Broken Dreams. What's more, a rewrite is apt to take "a while" even if it were to happen, since two more promised FCC hearings on the media ownership issue haven't yet happened and might not for some time.

So what it boils down to is this: The Tribune is asking the FCC to break its own rules. And yet, the FCC has a marked tendency -- inertially, historically, conveniently -- to grant media mergers. Which could mean the FCC might very well do just that and break its own rules.

An intriguing setup could await: Irresistible force versus immovable object. Sparks could fly. And what opportunities to further the public interest await this clash? Get the popcorn and stay tuned, kids.

UPDATE: Matt Stoller at MyDD reports that "Sam Zell...gave $5000 to Rahm Emanuel's PAC in 2005, the Common Values PAC, and to Dick Durbin. He was also a donor to Bush and now John McCain (as well as Russ Feingold and Tom Delay)". See also this article in Crain's and this Jeff Chester blog post.

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