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FCC renews L.A. station's license despite rival protest

April 17, 2007|Meg James | Times Staff Writer

The Federal Communications Commission has renewed the license of Los Angeles Spanish-language television station KAZA-TV Channel 54, denying an unusual protest brought by rival broadcaster NBC Universal.

In November, NBC Universal, which owns the Spanish-language Telemundo network, asked the FCC to deny the license renewal by invoking a rarely used morals clause. Among other things, NBC Universal alleged that Mexico's second-largest broadcaster, TV Azteca, which runs the Los Angeles station, was corrupt and thus lacked "the character qualifications" required by federal law.

But in a decision issued Friday, the FCC said it would not consider issues of misconduct outside the scope of its jurisdiction unless the behavior was "so egregious as to shock the conscious and evoke almost-universal disapprobation."

In this case, "we conclude that none of the conduct at issue is disqualifying," the FCC said.

NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric Co., also charged that TV Azteca used its power in Mexico to manipulate police into raiding a studio where Telemundo was shooting a show.

However, the FCC said it was inappropriate to intervene in a "private dispute" between NBC Universal and TV Azteca, and extended the license for the Los Angeles station to December 2014.

KAZA-TV is owned by Pappas Telecasting Co. of Visalia, Calif., but is managed by TV Azteca. Pappas is beginning to distance itself from TV Azteca, announcing this month that it will discontinue its relationship in major markets such as Houston and San Francisco.

The Pappas-TV Azteca agreement in Los Angeles expires in 2008, part of a complicated partnership that includes a $129-million loan to Pappas from TV Azteca. A Pappas spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The Los Angeles station is the cornerstone of the Azteca America broadcast network that TV Azteca is trying to build in the United States. Los Angeles has more Latinos than any other U.S. media market, making the station a valuable and strategic asset.

Azteca America said Monday in a statement that the FCC's decision gave "a clean bill of health for our operations, which fully respect U.S. regulations and institutions." In addition, the company questioned the motives of NBC Universal, whose Telemundo network was struggling in the ratings.

"The decision by the FCC determined that the NBC Telemundo actions had no merit and we suggest that they stop trying to place all of their business woes on TV Azteca," said Adrian Steckel, chief executive of Azteca America.

NBC Universal said in a statement that it "strongly disagrees with the staff decision" of the FCC but that it would not appeal the ruling because Pappas was seeking to break ties with TV Azteca.

meg.james@latimes.com

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