Rupert Murdoch yesterday asked the Federal Communications Commission to disregard a measure passed by Congress late last month that would, in effect, require him to sell media properties in Boston and New York.
In a petition that some FCC officials said appeared to be the first step in a long battle in the courts and in Congress, Murdoch asked the commission to extend two waivers from its cross-ownership rule, which prohibits a company from owning a newspaper and a television station in the same market.
Congress, through a surprise rider to the budget continuing resolution on Dec. 22, said that the FCC could not grant extensions to waivers from the cross-ownership prohibition or change the rule.
FCC general counsel Diane Killory said yesterday: "I cannot tell you exactly what we will do except to say that we won't disobey the legislation."
If the FCC turns Murdoch down, as expected, he could then take his case to a federal appeals court. Although it is not clear what the nature of such an appeal would be, several attorneys suggested that the purpose would be to get the court to grant him more time to sell one property in New York and another in Boston. Under the original waivers, Murdoch would be required to sell either the Boston Herald or WFXT-TV in Boston by June 30 and either the New York Post or WNYW-TV in New York by March 6. Murdoch has said that he will keep the Boston newspaper. In New York, he is expected to retain the television station.
Murdoch's attorneys argued that FCC should disregard the amendment because it "violates a number of provisions" of the Constitution -- among them freedom of the press, equal protection of the laws, separation of powers, and the freedom from a "bill of attainder," which is legislation aimed at punishing one individual.
Murdoch also argued that without an extension, he might close the Post instead of accepting one of a number of reported offers to buy it. The legislation was attached to the spending bill by Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).