FCC Trumps Court to Aid Ailing Station


The Federal Communications Commission Wednesday essentially nullified a court's order that Tribune Broadcasting sell TV station WTXX Hartford, Conn., to come into compliance with its ban on cross-ownership of TV stations and local newspapers.

Since 2001, Tribune has been under FCC orders to sell either WTXX or the Hartford Courant newspaper, which the company acquired as part of its purchase of Times-Mirror. Now, Tribune has permission to keep the station until 2007, when licenses for WTXX and another Hartford station owned by Tribune, WTIC, must be renewed.

The FCC had granted Tribune a permanent waiver to its TV duopoly restrictions because WTXX is a failing station that probably could not survive as a stand-alone operation.

Because of the Times-Mirror purchase, however, the FCC found that control over two TV outlets and the market's main newspaper would give Tribune too much media market power in Hartford. The company was granted two six-month waivers to continue operating WTXX until a buyer willing to pay the station's appraised value was found.

The last waiver expired August 2002 and the FCC did not act on Tribune's request for another extension until yesterday.

Last month, a federal district court ordered Tribune to sell WTXX after a competitor sued to make the company comply with the crossownership ban. The suit was filed by real estate developer Neil Ellis, whose wife, Elizabeth, publishes the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, a Hartford suburb.

FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein approved the WTXX waiver even though they fiercely oppose relaxation of media ownership limits. In this case, the public interest is served by the waiver because they believe the station probably would go dark if Tribune was forced to sell now. Also they were pleased that their fellow commissioners relied on specific public interest criteria, such as Tribune's improvements to WTXX programming, in approving the waiver extension.