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FCC Order Clears Tribune's Exit From Bankruptcy

Cross-ownership waivers granted in five markets
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Tribune's exit from a long and arduous bankruptcy is almost over after clearing the final regulatory hurdle at the Federal Communications Commission.

The regulator on Friday afternoon approved the media company's request for the assignment of its broadcast licenses to new owners J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Oaktree Capital Management and Angelo, Gordon & Co. The FCC also granted Tribune a permanent waiver of the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership in Chicago (where it owns a newspaper, TV and radio station) and temporary waivers in New York, Los Angeles, South Florida and Hartford (where it has newspapers and TV).

Tribune expects to emerge from bankruptcy in the next several weeks, Eddy Hartenstein, Tribune's CEO told employees in a memo.

"We are extremely pleased with today's action by the FCC," Hartenstein said in a statement.

The FCC gave Tribune one year to come into compliance with the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule in the four markets.

But if the FCC changes its rule, Tribune will have another year to seek a new waiver. That's a very real possibility because the FCC is currently considering circulating a draft order that could change the current newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule to allow newspaper-TV combos in the top 20 markets and newspaper-radio combos in any market. If the changes to the media ownership rule are agreed to by all the commissioners, Tribune would only need to seek a waiver for Hartford.

Commissioner McDowell thinks it's high time the FCC get rid of the ban altogether. "The ban is more than likely an unconstitutional limitation on speech by restricting speakers' access only to those platforms favored by the government. If this encroachment on First Amendment rights ever made sense in 1975 when it was codified, it no longer does in the face of today's highly competitive, dynamic and fragmented media marketplace. Accordingly, no rules should exist to which waivers need to be granted. In that spirit, while such rules still reside on our books, the commission should grant waivers permanently and not in miniscule one-year segments that require speakers to crawl back to the government for permission to speak."