WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday abruptly postponed a vote on publisher Rupert Murdoch's request to buy six big-city television stations from Metromedia Inc.
The move delays, at least temporarily, Murdoch's plans to use the stations in New York, Chicago, Washington, Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles as the basis for a part-time network.
In a statement read by a spokesman, Murdoch seemed unperturbed. "It's just part of the process," he was quoted as saying.
"He doesn't expect any major problems," added the spokesman, Howard J. Rubenstein. Questions about whether Murdoch, owner of the New York Post and Chicago Sun-Times, knew the cause of the delay went unanswered.
At the FCC, an aide said Chairman Mark S. Fowler and his key advisers were unavailable to explain why the item was pulled from Thursday's FCC meeting agenda.
"We want to make sure all of the I's are dotted and the T's are crossed," said William A. Russell Jr., director of congressional and public affairs for the agency.
Television Digest, an industry newsletter published in Washington, reported Monday that the commission staff had drafted language for approval of the takeover and the full two-year waiver of cross-ownership rules that Murdoch requested. FCC rules prohibit ownership of daily newspapers and TV stations in the same community.
The TV stations being sold to Murdoch are WNEW, New York; KTTV, Los Angeles, KRLD, Dallas; KRIV, Houston; WTTG, Washington, and WFLD, Chicago.
Also delayed was the vote on allowing Hearst Corp. to buy Metromedia's WCVB in Boston.
Last Friday, Media Access Project, a nonprofit law firm representing public interest groups, asked that the item be pulled from the agenda because Murdoch "has not yet certified his financial qualifications to be an FCC licensee."
On Monday, MAP filed another petition at the FCC asking that the vote be delayed until hearings were held on the proposed transfer of the stations' licenses.
"The character, track record and plan of the persons who will operate the new licensee are worthy of the most careful consideration," MAP contended.
Technically, the commission could throw out the petitions, since the deadline for comment on the $1.5-billion deal has long passed.