Media consolidation critic Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)
Tuesday criticized Gannett over its proposal to buy Belo stations, including
three in Washington state, to create a so-called Super Group.
Gannett is disallowed by FCC local market caps from
retaining ownership of Belo stations in five markets where it already owns a
will be owned by former Belo exec Jack Sander. But Gannett has said it will provide some back office services for the
At the Senate Commerce Committee hearing for FCC chair
nominee Tom Wheeler on Tuesday, Cantwell brought up the deal in questioning on
media ownership rules and said she saw it as an effort by Gannett to "use
shared services agreements as a way to get around [FCC local ownership]
rules." She said she was very concerned about the issue.
Wheeler said he understood the seriousness of the issue, and
has been a longtime advocate of diversity of voices. But he said the FCC has
asked GAO to study the issue and he "looked forward to their
opinion." He said the key is for the commission to look at competition,
localism and diversity as the touchstones, not business plans. He declined to
comment on whether some broadcasters could abuse shared service agreements to
get around the rules. "I am not informed enough to be explicit on
that," he said, "but I am going to be."
Gannett has said it expected to be able to either
own or "service" all the Belo stations and Gracia Martore, Gannett
president and CEO, said this week she
expected to consolidate "all the results from these stations into our
overall financial results."