Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch may seek permission from the Federal Communications Commission to keep The Chicago Sun-Times and The New York Post after he acquires television stations in those cities, although the agency's rules now restrict him from doing so.
An FCC source who asked not to be identified said an attorney for Murdoch told the agency that Murdoch "would like to seek those waivers" to keep the newspapers, but is "checking the climate at the commission and elsewhere to see that that is possible."
Metromedia Inc. announced Monday that it has agreed to sell its chain of major independent television stations, including WTTG-TV (Channel 5) in Washington, to Murdoch and Denver oilman Marvin Davis for more than $2 billion. But under FCC rules, no one person or entity can own daily newspapers, radio stations and television stations in the same market.
Murdoch's assets, which span three continents, include The Chicago Sun-Times and The New York Post. FCC officials had said earlier that they expected Murdoch to ask for 18 months' leeway to divest those newspapers because of Metromedia stations he is acquiring in Chicago and New York as well as in Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Washington.
FCC officials did not indicate whether they would grant Murdoch permanent permission to keep the newspapers. Crossownership rules are meant to prevent one entity from exerting too much power in a given market through more than one communications outlet. "There is no underestimating Mr. Murdoch's persuasive powers, but there is no question the FCC is concerned about its rules here," the FCC source said.
A Murdoch spokesman categorically denied that Murdoch would seek permission to keep the papers. "We have not asked for a waiver, we will not ask for a waiver and anyone who has inquired was doing it without his authority," the spokesman said after phoning Murdoch in London late yesterday evening.
An FCC decision to grant waivers "would receive a very hostile reaction from many quarters on Capitol Hill," said Philip L. Verveer, a lawyer with Wilkie Farr & Gallagher and former chief of the FCC broadcast bureau. "The crossownership rules involve not only issues of economic competition but political, social and cultural diversity."
Verveer said the commission has tended in recent decisions to concentrate "more narrowly" on solely economic implications.