Sinclair seeks extension of deadline

It will appeal to court over FCC sale order

May 19, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Attorneys for Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. said yesterday that they plan to ask a federal court to extend the deadline on a Federal Communications Commission order that would force the company to sell television stations in four markets by the end of the summer.

The Cockeysville-based broadcast group plans to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday to allow it to continue operating the stations - in Charleston, W.Va.; Charleston, S.C.; and Columbus and Dayton, Ohio - until that same court hears an appeal filed by Sinclair against the FCC order.

In 1999, the FCC created rules that forbade broadcasters from operating two stations in one market if there were fewer than eight local stations. Broadcasters had five years to release control of stations opened before 1996 and two years for all others.

In several markets, Sinclair owns one station and programs a second, though the license is held by another company. Sinclair has until Aug. 6 under the current FCC ruling to sell - or close - the stations outlined in its court appeal. If the appeals court denies the claim, which is scheduled for oral arguments Jan. 14, Sinclair would also have to sell or close either WBFF-TV, its Fox affiliate in Baltimore, or WNUV-TV, its UPN affiliate here, in the next three years.

Sinclair officials said yesterday that the eight-station rule was set up arbitrarily, and they are confident that their case will stand up in court.

"We are 100 percent sure that we're not going to lose these stations," said Mark Hyman, Sinclair vice president of corporate communications.

Sinclair officials asked for a stay from the FCC order on May 4, telling the regulatory agency in a filing that it would turn to the courts if it didn't respond by yesterday. Sinclair attorney Martin Leader said the FCC told him they wouldn't issue a decision by that deadline.

FCC officials did not return calls yesterday.

Analysts say the FCC doesn't normally act on cases where the courts have already become involved. Victor Miller, analyst with Bear Stearns & Co., said it is likely that the appeals court will issue an extension based on other recent decisions regarding FCC rules. For instance, Miller said, the court issued a similar stay in the Viacom/CBS merger, which would have broken FCC cable ownership caps.

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