By the same 5-2 vote that on Jan. 12 approved the swap of WJLA-TV here for a television station in Oklahoma City, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday reaffirmed its decision.
But four local citizens groups have filed a court appeal of the regulatory agency's action, and owners of the television properties involved are expected to withhold final approval for the transaction until the U.S. Court of Appeals rules on an expected petition to stay the effect of the FCC order.
At issue is the sale by Washington Star Communications, Inc., of WJLA (Channel 7) to Combined Communications Corp., of Phoenix. In exchange, Star Communications Chairman and owner Joe L. Allbritton would gain ownership of KOCO-TV and nonvoting stock in Combined worth $55 million - a total package valued at some $100 million for the largest proposed transaction in broadcast history.
The FCC approved the exchange twice over the objections of two dissenters, Commissioners Tyrone Brown and Joseph R. Fogarty. They complained that Allbritton's ownership of a substantial block of Combined stock violated the agency's rules on multiple ownership, since he would own three TV stations outright.
Citizens groups here objected to the transaction on two grounds - that if approved Combined's ownership concentration would violate FCC rules for top markets and that Allbritton allegedly violated an agreement to seek minority owners for WJLA. They have asked the U.S. Court of Appeals here to overturn the FCC.
Although a Washington Star-Combined Communications contract for the sale expires tonight, after two extensions, the agreement will remain intact unless either of the companies decides to withdraw, according to Combined chief counsel Lawrence R. Wilson.
He said yesterday that Combined still wants to own WJLA and will defer any decision until the court acts on a petition to stay the FCC order, if one is filed. A spokesman for Allbritton said he would have no response until he had studied the FCC decision.
The FCC decided to reconsider the television transaction after Allbritton agreed to sell The Washington Star newspaper to Time, Inc., because some commissioners thought proceeds of the TV sale were necessary to keep the newspaper solvent. Spokesmen for Time and The Star said yesterday the proposed newspaper sale is still "on track."