Washington Star Publisher Joe Allbritton yesterday criticized the Federal Communications Commission for providing "no clear decision" after four years on his ownership of media properties in the local market.
Speaking to the final session of the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention, Allbritton asserted the regulatory agency had become "suspicious" that while he was seeking approval to swap WJLA-TV here for an Oklahoma City station, he already had agreed to sell The Washington Star to Time Inc.
But Allbritton said no such decision to sell The Star was made until after the FCC originally approved the television statio deal on Jan.12. Although the decision supported the WJLA sale, the newspaper publisher said it went against him because of the "fine print," which he has argued would limit future business flexinility.
If he has agreed to sell the newspaper before the FCC acted, "word of mouth would have carried it all over Washington" within 24 hours, Allbritton declared. The newspaper sale was related to the TV transaction because some FCC members believed profits from the exchange would support The Star.
In response to a question about ownership concentsation in the media industry, Allbritton had other acid remarks about the FCC.
"The group that calls themselves the Federal Communications Commission" decided to seek diversity of media ownership and began to enforce the policy in the case of The Star, Allbritton said.
This was a reference to the agency's requirement that he sell Star radio and television properties here if he remained owner of the newspaper, part of the new policy to prohibit future joint media ownership in the same market.
"We have really broken up the media," he said with sarcasm, noting that Time Inc, the nation's largest magazine publisher, now owns The Star, and that American Broadcasting Co. acquired WMAL-AM and WMAL-FM (now WRQX).
Only a giant company would be able to buy WJLA (Channel 7), he continued. Allbritton continues to own WJLA after canceling his $100 million agreement to exchange the station for a Combined Communications Corp. property and preferred stock. Some FCC officials have said Allbritton cannot continue as WJLA owner and Star publisher after next January, even though Time now owns the newspaper.
On other points in his talk to the editors at the Washington Hilton, and in response to their questions, Allbritton said:
"I don't know," when asked if The Star would begin publication of weekday morning editions.
"No," when asked if The Star and The Washington Post would consider combining printing operations.
"Anticipated cross-fertilization" between Time and The Satar will be accomplished gradually
Allbritton's discussion of his "sincere effort" to keep The Star in business in Washington over the past four years was part of a panel with two other editors.
James Hoge Jr., editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and of the now defunct Chicago Daily News for its final year in business, warned his colleagues not to make generalizations about the health of afternoon papers because the News folded.
Douglas Bailey of the new philadelphia Journal described his newspaper's mix of sports, entertainment, personalities, local news and pinups as "a peculiar formula" other editors may want to study if the Journal continues to attract readers.