FCC Targets Black Conservative In TV Station Fight

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For years, the Federal Communications Commission has allowed TV stations to execute joint operating agreements allowing themselves to outsource tasks such as advertising sales to group owners with more resources.

But when conservative columnist and entrepreneur Armstrong Williams recently purchased two stations, making him one of America’s few black owners of local TV affiliates, the commission unexpectedly decided to use his acquisition as a test case to review the practice.

The actions — coupled with other recent FCC decisions such as a plan to survey newsrooms that alarmed news media before it was withdrawn — have injected questions about whether a commission set up by Congress to be nonpartisan is now acting with a political litmus test under the Obama administration.

The FCC, backed by the Obama administration Justice Department, argues that broadcasters have used the shared-service, or “sidecar,” arrangements to circumvent long-standing rules against owning multiple television stations in a single market, allowing them to raise ad prices and weaken market competition. But critics say the effects of the rules — which could be taken up at the commission’s next meeting March 31 — on owners such as Mr. Williams suggest a more partisan motive.

Fox News analyst Juan Williams, a friend of Mr. Williams, raised the issue of partisanship in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Monday. “My suspicion is that liberals at the FCC who claim to be interested in promoting diverse broadcast ownership lose interest if the owner is a conservative like Armstrong Williams,” Juan Williams wrote. “They want diversity — but not of the political kind.”

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Howard StirkComment