Free Press and Put People First PA allege that Tribune’s proposed transfer of the three Local TV stations to a "shell corporation" are designed to let Tribune operate stations in markets where it also owns daily newspapers.
Tribune SSA Deals Come Under Attack
Watchdog groups have asked the FCC to deny an effort by Tribune Broadcasting to operate under shared services agreements three of the 19 TV stations the company is buying in its $2.7 billion acquisition of Local TV.
In a petition to deny filed at the FCC, watchdog groups Free Press and Put People First PA allege that Tribune’s proposed transfer of the three Local TV stations — WNEP (ABC) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa. (DMA 54) and WGNT (CW)-WTKR (CBS) Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News, Va. (DMA 44), to Dreamcatcher Broadcasting are designed to let Tribune operate stations in markets where it also owns daily newspapers.
The FCC’s ownership rules generally bar broadcasters from owning daily newspapers and TV stations in the same market.
The August 19 petition alleges that Dreamcatcher is a “shell corporation” owned by Ed Wilson, a former Tribune president. “The stations will be operated as if Tribune owned them outright,” the watchdog groups claim in their petition to deny.
“The commission should not approve the transfer of WNEP-TV, WTKR-TV and WGNT-TV to Dreamcatcher, because the grant would be contrary to the public interest and would continue a dangerous precedent allowing broadcasters to subvert the purpose of the local media ownership rules,” the watchdog groups said.
Said Gary Weitman, a Tribune spokesman, in response: “The transactions have been structured in compliance with FCC rules and precedent. We are reviewing the Free Press filing and will respond in due course.”
Spartan did not explain why it is blowing the whistle on its SSA partner, but it did mention a possible consequence. “We anticipate that New Young may elect to discontinue the SSA and JSA with Spartan in retaliation for this Informal Objection, possibly requiring Spartan to sell WHTV under a distressed waiver,” the filing says.