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FCC plan could let Tribune keep papers, TV stations

Updated: December 19, 2012 12:10PM

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is recommending a partial rollback of longstanding rules that prevent newspaper publishers from owning broadcast stations in the same markets. The change could help Chicago-based Tribune Co. emerge from bankruptcy.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed to other commissioners a modernization of media ownership rules, an agency spokesman confirmed in an email Wednesday. The FCC had no immediate comment on specifics or on a new policy’s impact on Tribune.

Genachowski would let Tribune retain exemptions that allow it to operate newspapers and broadcast outlets in five cities, Bloomberg News reported, quoting two unnamed officials. They include Chicago, where the company owns the Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio and television. Tribune Co. spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment.

Keeping that waiver under the so-called “cross ownership” ban that has been in place since 1975 is required before the media giant can emerge from its four-year bankruptcy. It is the biggest hurdle remaining before its senior creditors, Oaktree Capital Management, Angelo, Gordon & Co. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., take over the company.

But once Tribune comes out of bankruptcy, the waiver soon could be moot. The new owners are expected to sell the operations in pieces and could separate the print publications from the more profitable broadcast segment anyway.

In a statement, an FCC spokesman said Genachowski advanced a plan that includes “eliminating outdated prohibitions on newspaper-radio and TV-radio cross ownership.”

The statement went on, “As the commission recognized last year, while the media marketplace is in transition, broadband and new media are not yet available as ubiquitously as traditional broadcast media, and certain protections therefore remain important to promoting competition, diversity and localism.

“The proposal promotes media diversity by retaining some consolidation limits and through a number of measures that provide broadcast opportunities for small businesses.”

Bloomberg reported the proposal would allow cross-ownership in the 20 largest cities.

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