Claiming that broadcast-ownership limits are in legal limbo, media giant
Viacom Inc. is asking the Federal Communications Commission to lift a deadline
that requires the company to sell TV stations in less than two months to comply
with agency rules.
FCC rules limit a TV-station owner to 35 percent of the nation's TV
households. After acquiring CBS Corp., Viacom had a 41 percent audience reach,
and it was given until May 4 to get under the 35 percent cap.
In an 'emergency request' filed March 9, Viacom asked the FCC to jettison the
fast-approaching deadline. If the agency failed to act by March 16, Viacom said,
it planned to go to federal court to obtain the necessary relief.
Viacom made the filing one week after a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out a host of cable-ownership limits
based on First Amendment and other concerns.
Viacom told the FCC that in light of the cable decision, 'there is a
substantial possibility' that the company and other TV-station owners would
prevail in striking down the 35 percent broadcast-ownership rule.
Both NBC and Fox Broadcasting Co. have challenged the 35 percent cap in the
D.C. Circuit. The networks quit the National Association of Broadcasters in
protest over the NAB's support for the limit.
Viacom said FCC relief was necessary to preserve the status quo while the
litigation is pending. The company said it should not be forced to sell stations
'valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars' when a later court ruling might
say it was unnecessary.
'Such forced and irrevocable divestiture would undoubtedly constitute
irreparable injury,' Viacom told the commission in its 31-page