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FCC OKs Cross-Ownership

The FCC this morning ended the prohibition of one company owning a TV station and a newspaper in the same market.

The 32-year-old rule known as the cross-ownership ban went down in a 3-2 party-line vote. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin took heavy fire last on Capitol Hill from lawmakers over scheduling the vote. At a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, Martin was asked by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) if he’d consider delaying the vote, to which Martin replied, “no.”

The chairman’s direction so incensed Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) the he called for the agency to be reauthorized next year.(Just last month, Martin showed up in Rockefeller’s home state to announce an $8.4 million award to create a broadband network for health care providers.) Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they would

The Tuesday vote did not wipe out the cross-ownership ban all together, but instead opened up the top 20 markets for newspaper-radio-TV station ownership combinations, and set up a waiver process for smaller markets. It also granted permanent exemptions on 42 pending waivers, according to wire reports.

The eponymous parent corporation of the Chicago Tribune commenced TV broadcasting under an exemption granted nearly 60 years ago. The company created at least four more newspaper-TV combos over the last decade in anticipation of the end of the cross-ownership ban.

The ban was indeed lifted by the FCC in its 2004 rewrite of media ownership rules, but those rules landed in federal court and bounced back to the FCC for another go. Tribune in the meantime was sold to Chitown mogul Sam Zell in a deal pending FCC approval and continued cross-ownership exemptions. The Dec. 18 vote covers the Tribune combinations, but too late for the deal to close before the end of the year as the financing arrangement required.

Tribune filed suit against the FCC in federal appeals court Dec. 3.