FCC Launches Investigation Of Media General

The agency's deputy general counsel tells a federal court that the probe is to determine whether to subject Media General to a license revocation hearing. The FCC is upset by Media General's attempts in court to block Gray Television from ending the JSA it has with Media General for WAGT Augusta, Ga., and from selling the station in the incentive auction.

The FCC has launched an investigation into whether Media General is usurping control of Gray Television’s WAGT Augusta, Ga., an NBC affiliate that it has been operating under joint sales and shared services agreements.

The FCC has “initiated an investigation and plans to issue a Letter of Inquiry within the near future in order to determine … whether a hearing would be appropriate under Section 312 of the Communications Act,” FCC Deputy General Counsel David Gossett said in a court filing yesterday.

Section 312 is the FCC’s death penalty provision, outlining the grounds by which the agency may revoke a broadcaster’s license.

That Media General would rile up the FCC for the sake of a single small-market JSA is surprising, given that it and Nexstar Broadcasting Group are asking the FCC to bless their $4.6 billion merger.

Media General did not immediately respond to an email and call for comment.

The investigation is the latest twist in a legal and regulatory feud that began when Gray bought WAGT along with the other Schurz Communications stations.

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The FCC approved the deal on Feb. 12 on certain conditions, including that Schurz and Gray terminate the WAGT JSA with Media General, which operated WAGT in tandem its ABC affiliate, WJBF.

Eager to comply with the conditions, Gray notified Media General that it was ending the JSA. The deal closed on Feb. 16.

But rather than accept the dismissal, Media General sued Schurz and Gray in Georgia state court and won an injunction against Gray “interfering with Media General’s continued performance of the joint sales agreement” or selling WAGT in the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction.

At Gray’s request, the case has been moved to federal district court.

The FCC weighed into the dispute yesterday in the form of the Gossett letter, asking the Department of Justice to pass it along to the federal court.

The letter says, in essence, that Media General is out of line in trying to preserve the JSA. “The commission has ordered that the JSA not continue once Gray consummated its acquisition of WAGT,” it says.

In addition, it says by trying to block Gray from selling the station in the incentive auction, Media General “has also violated Section 310(d) of the Communications Act.” That provision prohibits transfer of broadcast licenses without FCC authorization.

“Our submission is solely that federal law and policy preclude Media General’s seeking injunctive relief to require further implementation of the JSA or to deny Gray control of the decision whether to sell the station, in the incentive auction or otherwise,” the letter says.

“It does not preclude an appropriate damages remedy for any private injury that a court may find to have occurred.”


Comments (8)

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Lidia McCall says:

March 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Media General…total “cluster”!

Ellie Churchill says:

March 10, 2016 at 1:07 pm

Good to see Jessell interjecting opinion presented as journalism

    John Murray says:

    March 10, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Huh? Where did he interject opinion? Seems like a pretty straight, factual report to me.

SHELLY MOONEY says:

March 10, 2016 at 2:40 pm

As someone from the Augusta Market, this whole ordeal has been one big cluster f**k. I have a lot of close personal friends at both WAGT and WRDW and have been keeping a close eye on the whole situation. This whole thing boggles my mind, and the fact that they are still trying to block things is just crazy.

Evan Ortynsky says:

March 10, 2016 at 4:02 pm

The way I hear, Gray tried for months to sit down with Media General to find a long term win win solution to this issue, but Media General refused to meet until the Gray/Schurz deal went through. Then they just tried to sue… Seems media General was just butt hurt that Schurz sold to Gray.

Jill Hatzioannou says:

March 10, 2016 at 10:41 pm

We have heard what the Gray people have to say, but not the Media General people, so there is at least one more side to this story. I remember about 4 years ago when Schurz signed a 10 year agreement with the Media General station to run WAGT. At the time WAGT was making no money and had an aging, failing plant. Media General invested time and money into building WAGT up. Just about the time they start to see a return on that investment, Schurz sells the license. Well, there’s a contract in place. Just because the FCC says they don’t want a JSA doesn’t mean the contract is suddenly meaningless. Where are all the usual suspects on here raging about Commission overreach?

    Andrea Rader says:

    March 11, 2016 at 12:13 am

    I fail to see how the public interest is served simulcasting two Big Four affiliates newscasts versus a separate news operation (albeit sharing the same facility.) The FCC screwed up big time on this one.

Brad Dann says:

March 11, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Media General instructed the anchors to ask people to complain to the FCC. You Reap what you SOW! FCC is not trying to interfere with the contract, but they can revoke a license, contract or not. MG is led by idiots, everyone knows it and this is a great example of that.


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