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Tribune Loses Ruling on Ownership

September 04, 2004|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

A federal appeals court Friday thwarted Tribune Co.'s efforts to lift a ban keeping it from buying TV stations and newspapers in the same big-city markets.

Chicago-based Tribune, which owns the Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV Channel 5, said it would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

The company had sought to have the freeze lifted through a narrow appeal of a decision in June by the same appellate court overturning Federal Communications Commission efforts in 2003 to deregulate media ownership.

In that opinion, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia found the FCC failed to adequately justify its loosening of local and national media ownership limits. It ordered the agency to redraw the regulations.

Tribune has long argued that no ownership limits are needed in the largest media markets because of the proliferation of news outlets.

The company contends that a 1975 blanket ban on newspaper and television cross-ownership in all markets except those with four or fewer TV stations violates its rights of expression.

In addition to The Times, Tribune owns other newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Baltimore Sun and the Hartford Courant. The company operates both newspapers and TV stations in the Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Hartford, Conn., areas, and could do the same in additional markets if the cross-ownership rules were scrapped.

Last year, the FCC sided with Tribune, lifting the big-market ban as part of sweeping changes in media ownership rules.

But the June decision upended the agency's move. Although the court said the FCC had the power to lift the cross-ownership ban, it found that the agency had to better justify its reasons for doing so.

Public interest groups opposed to relaxing ownership rules hailed Friday's decision.

"Tribune must have realized that this was a longshot," said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project. "It is rather clear that the court expects the FCC to revisit the entire ownership picture. Tribune's effort to obtain special treatment for itself was reasonably transparent to the court, I suspect."

Tribune's lobbyist, Shaun Sheehan, said the company was frustrated by the ruling but would "take it up a notch and see if the Supreme Court will hear our case."

"We pursued this legal strategy on our own and clearly we think we are in the right," he said.

Sheehan said the larger problem facing Tribune was the lingering regulatory uncertainty.

Separately, the appeals court approved tighter limits on radio station ownership in a single market, according to an order signed by Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ambro. But the court on Friday continued to block the rest of the FCC radio rules.

Shares of Tribune rose a penny to $42 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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Dow Jones/Associated Press was used in compiling this report.

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