FCC Rules Tribune Can Keep Paper and TV Stations in Connecticut -- But Only Until 2007

By: (AP) The Tribune Co. can continue to operate The Hartford Courant and two Connecticut television stations for now, the Federal Communications Commission ruled Wednesday, but should plan to sell the stations by 2007.

The FCC's ruling grants Tribune a temporary waiver of its newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule. But the FCC denied the company's request for a permanent waiver to allow it to keep WTXX-TV and WTIC-TV.

The FCC had ordered Tribune to sell WTXX, a WB affiliate, in 2001, but granted extensions that expired in August 2002. The company had sought a permanent waiver of the cross-ownership rules to permit its ownership of WTXX and Fox affiliate WTIC-TV in Hartford.

The case has been in the federal courts since 2003. U.S. District Judge Christopher F. Droney last month ruled that Tribune was in violation of an FCC order for failing to comply with the divestiture deadline and ordered Tribune to sell WTXX.

In its ruling Wednesday, the FCC said it granted the temporary waiver because WTXX would be in danger of failing if it was separated from WTIC-TV. The temporary waiver "would permit Tribune additional time to further improve the joint performance of the stations and thus the chances that they might be sold without a substantial risk of loss of service to the community," the FCC said.

In a statement, Tribune said it was pleased the FCC "recognized Tribune's service to the public through its ownership of WTXX."

The company's statement did not address the FCC's denial of a permanent waiver.

The FCC's rules limit giving a TV broadcast license to a company that operates a daily newspaper in the same community covered by a station. Tribune had owned both television stations before purchasing the Courant from Times Mirror Publications in 2000.

The FCC noted that Tribune has tried unsuccessfully to sell both stations, as well as WTXX separately.

The agency said the public interest is "better served by extending the waiver of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule as applied to The Courant-WTXX combination to coincide with the renewal of the licenses of the two stations." WTIC's license is up for renewal in April 2007.

Commissioners Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein wrote separately that they concur in the decision but disagreed with the process, including what they called the FCC's "protracted inaction" on requests for waivers.


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