Free Press Challenges Media General


Free Press, an activist group fighting media consolidation, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to reject Media General Inc.’s request for a waiver allowing it to operate both a television station and a daily newspaper in the Columbus, Ga., market.

Media General’s license for WRBL-TV is up for renewal and the company must obtain an FCC waiver if it wants to keep the station and the Opelika-Auburn News, located across the Alabama state line.

FCC rules bar common ownership of TV stations and daily newspapers in the same market. If the waiver is denied, the company must sell one of the properties.

Media General acquired WRBL in April 2000. Four months later it also purchased the Opelika-Auburn News under a loophole in FCC rules that allows station owners to buy their local newspaper and operate it until the station license is renewed.

Because licenses are reviewed only every eight years, owners can control dual properties for years without getting FCC OK.

Media General faces challenges to similar waiver requests in the Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Panama City, Fla., markets. "Media General gambled that the FCC would undo the cross-ownership rule before its license in Columbus came up for renewal," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press.

"But the federal courts, following a widespread public outcry, rightly rejected the FCC's attempts to change the rules. Media General wants the FCC to use a loophole to waive the rules anyway." 

Angela Campbell, an attorney with Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation, is representing Free Press in fight at the FCC. "Media General has made no effort to comply with FCC rules in the past four years, and they shouldn't now be even given a temporary waiver - let alone a permanent one."

Media General has insisted that its operation of various crossowned media properties has strengthen their news products and economic performances.