THE Tribune Co. agreement to buy 19 television stations for $2.7 billion is part of the continuing saga of an enterprise that uses media companies as wagers on other bets.
This deal heads to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) six months after the company emerged from bankruptcy.
Now the company is looking to slough off its newspaper holdings, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, to get into local television well beyond the 23 stations it already owns.
Tribune newspapers were used as gambling chits in a federal tax scheme that would take epic poets to describe. Even the seen-it-all Internal Revenue Service is apparently impressed by the audacity of the Tribune’s tax play by a former owner. The company is haunted by the specter of an enormous tax bill.
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This is the bag of corporate media offal splattered on the FCC doorstep.
Tribune wants to expand its local television holdings because, as The Associated Press reports, it expects to maximize national and local advertising sales, and expand its footprint to distribute video and digital content.
Quite the path. Tribune acquired newspapers and used them in a dubious tax scheme, plunged into bankruptcy, crawled back to begin dumping newspapers, and is spending billions to be the nation’s largest commercial-television-station owner.
What is the value to the nation the FCC will discern from this? Media consolidation has meant skimpier news coverage, shared newsrooms and an ever-shrinking environment for diverse views, commentary and ownership.
The backdrop for this media consolidation is more media consolidation.
Gannett Co., publisher of some 90 daily newspapers, is acquiring more local TV stations to boost its ownership to 43, including Seattle and other Northwest communities.
Sinclair Broadcast Group bought 20 West Coast stations, including Seattle’s KOMO 4. Yet another media merger packaged 30 TV stations in 27 markets under one owner.
Can the FCC look the country in the eye and say this concentration of ownership and its detached broadloom stewardship is healthy for the nation? No, it cannot.