Free Press | Variety

Gannett and Belo are trying to get around FCC cross-ownership rules by transferring broadcast licenses to shell companies, Free Press and other groups say in a petition asking the FCC to block the companies' planned merger.

Gannett announced in June it would buy Belo, making it the fourth-largest owner of major network affiliate stations. The company already owns many newspapers. Investors have cheered the deal.

Time Warner Cable, the American Cable Association and DirecTV have also filed a petition opposing part of the deal, Ted Johnson reports. Those entities say "the deal threatens to drive up retransmission fees and risk even more station blackouts in negotiation standoffs," Johnson writes.

"These arrangements attempt to mask the true intent and effect of the transaction: to allow Gannett to simultaneously influence and control multiple media outlets in the same local market in a way that is contrary to the public interest and otherwise prohibited by the Commission’s rules," Free Press' petition (embedded below) says.

The merger "will lead to job losses and a considerable reduction in the quality of journalism for millions of television homes," the petition continues.

At the very least, these proposed arrangements are contrary to the spirit of the Commission’s media ownership rules, which are intended to promote diversity, competition, and localism. Even if they do not outright violate the rules, such sharing arrangements are not in the public interest because they reduce the diversity of viewpoints and reduce competition in the provision of local news and the sale of advertising.

"This transaction is entirely consistent with all FCC rules, policies and precedent, and will bring substantial benefits to the public," Gannett spokesperson Jeremy Gaines writes in an email to Poynter.

Free Press is joined in the petition by several other groups, including the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the Newspaper Guild-CWA.

Free Press' petition to block Gannett-Belo deal

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