Common Cause and Free Press Monday asked the Federal Communications Commission to deny renewal of the television license of WBTW in Florence, S.C.
The station owner, Media General, has filed a license renewal application and a request for a permanent waiver to own both WBTW and the only local daily newspaper, the Florence Morning News, in violation of the Federal Communications Commission’s newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule.
The rule forbids a broadcast station from owning a daily newspaper in the same community. WBTW is the largest station in the area and the Morning News is the only daily newspaper in the city of Florence.
There is however, another daily in Myrtle Beach, which is part of the same media market. “The Florence area is a rich and diverse community that deserves to get its local news from diverse sources,” said Common Cause South Carolina Executive Director, Dr. John Crangle.
In 2000, Media General purchased both WBTW TV and the Florence Morning News, utilizing a loophole in the general rule that says that no single company can own a television station and a newspaper in the same community.
As in other mid-sized markets, Media General established the combo in expectation that the FCC would remove the ban on TV/newspaper crossownership.
Although the FCC attempted to relax the ban greatly in 2003, a federal appeals court said the FCC’s new limits were not adequately reasoned and the ban remains in place. “It was Media General’s choice to bet so heavily on this prediction; they did so at their own risk,” said Angela Campbell of the Institute for Public Representation, a Georgetown law school-sponsored public interest law firm participating in the proceeding. “Media General gambled that the rules would change and it lost,” said Dr. Crangle.
Media General’s license for WBTW expires Dec. 1 and petitions to deny renewal were due Monday.