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Media ownership changes in question on peninsula

Posted: Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Monday the Federal Communi-cations Commission eased rules governing ownerships of newspapers and TV and radio stations, allowing for the potential of cross-ownership in certain markets.

The rules revision created an opportunity for some Alaska media companies to expand their horizons, purchasing new mediums of public information distribution. In Fairbanks, owners of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner likely will buy KTVF-TV under reworked federal rules approved Monday, according to company officials.

The impact could hit close to home as Morris Communications, the company that owns the Peninsula Clarion, the Homer News and The Milepost, is considering purchasing KSRM Inc., the multi-station radio broadcast company based in Kenai.

According to the new rule on cross-ownership, no such partnering is allowed in markets with three or fewer TV stations. But a company can obtain a waiver if it can show that the television station broadcast in the area does not serve the community.

In markets with between four and eight TV stations, combinations are limited to either a daily newspaper, one TV station and up to three radio stations, or a daily, and up to three radio stations.

Stan Pitlo, the director of Alaska Newspapers for Morris, said it was too soon to determine if purchasing a radio group on the peninsula is a good move, although he hasn't ruled out the option.

Because the peninsula receives media signals from a number of Anchorage radio and TV stations, it is uncertain how the FCC would interpret rules for such an area, or whether the commission would allow combinations in the peninsula market.

"There are a few questions we have to ask," Pitlo said. "Is it legal? Is it prudent? Will it be a good fit? We're not knee-jerking this. We're going to take a real good look at this before we do anything."

KSRM owner John Davis said he hasn't had any offers on the table for his business thus far. The radio group includes KSRM-FM, KKIS-FM, KWHQ-FM and KSLD-AM, and the 62-year-old who has been with KSRM for 36 years said he's not ready to give up the stations, yet.

"It depends on whether I want to retire," Davis said. "Then, if somebody makes an offer, I'll be willing to talk."

He said he anticipates challenges to the ruling from Congress to stretch out any opportunity of selling his company to another media owner, however, although he said he agreed with the FCC ruling.

"It may be overturned by Congress," Davis said. "I think the whole thing is up in the air for the summer. But I can see where the commission is coming from. There are so many sources of information, it seems like it would be a good move. If you have a large organization, they're definitely able to grow, and it gives you a lot of diversity."

But Dave Becker, co-owner of Peninsula Communications in Soldotna, complained that cross-ownership could create an unfair advertising advantage for those able to own print and broadcast media.

Becker owns two stations that compete directly with KSRM Inc. programming in the Kenai and Soldotna market KPEN-FM and KXBA-FM (K-BAY) and owns two more stations (K-WAVE and KGTL-AM) that broadcast on the south peninsula.

"That would be pretty anti-competitive," Becker said of media advertising sales that would see the biggest benefit. "They tend to put together packages where you get bonuses for buying both mediums. That was the reason for the ban in the first place. The thinking was that it tends to create a monopoly."

In Fairbanks, News-Miner publisher Marilyn Romano said her daily newspaper would share at least some information with the TV station the company aims to buy.

"We've been doing that for the last few years," she said. "Now it's a matter of how we'll work out the details."

The News-Miner and the Kodiak Daily-Mirror are owned by Fair-banks Daily News-Miner Inc., which is owned by a trust belonging to the families of Singleton and MediaNews Group co-founder Richard Scudder.

The Fairbanks newspaper company has had an option to buy KTVF for several years in anticipation of the FCC decision.

Clear Channel Communications, a giant in the radio business, currently owns KTVF and four of Fairbanks' six local radio stations.

''Technically, the News-Miner, according to these rules, cannot only own us, they can own three other radio stations,'' said Bill Wright, KTVF general manager.

Critics of the FCC decision said it could lead to news being controlled by only a few major companies, and the sentiment was reflected by some on the peninsula and in Fairbanks.

"It just means less voices going out to the public," said Bill Glynn, president of Kasilof Public Broadcasting Corp., which runs KWJG-FM. "If they're all owned by the same group, nobody has a choice."

''I am always disturbed by a lessening of plurality of voices in any market and that is what is going to happen here,'' said Joy Morrison, head of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Journalism. ''We have one less different voice.''

The Associated Press contributed to this story.



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