Rupert Murdoch’s protracted legal woes over his Fox TV network receded somewhat Wednesday as a federal appeals court rejected a bid by the NAACP to block the renewal of Fox’s flagship station and federal regulators neared a decision on whether the media mogul can buy four other stations.
The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals involves television station WNYW in New York and upholds a 1993 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to waive rules that prohibit a company from owning both a television station and a daily newspaper in the same city. The rule is aimed at encouraging diversity of media ownership.
The National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People had contended that Murdoch’s Australian holding company, News Corp., had run afoul of the law when it acquired the struggling New York Post on Oct. 1, 1993. The civil rights organization asked the FCC to revoke News Corp.'s license to operate television station WNYW.
Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., argued that the tabloid would die unless he acquired it.
David Honig, a Washington lawyer who handles media litigation for the NAACP, said he had not seen the ruling but would study it with an eye toward an appeal.
William S. Reyner Jr., an attorney representing News Corp., issued a statement on the appeals court decision saying, “We are gratified that, despite the strong language in the NAACP’s petition and its argument that the court had failed to address an issue raised by it, not even a single judge felt it appropriate to consider further the NAACP’s arguments.” The NAACP is also contesting News Corp.'s interest in four other stations Murdoch is seeking to acquire in New Orleans; Green Bay, Wis.; Honolulu, and Mobile, Ala. The civil rights organization has challenged those transactions on the grounds that News Corp., which is attempting to buy the stations in a joint venture with Savoy Pictures Entertainment Inc., exercises de facto control over the properties in violation of federal foreign-ownership laws. A decision is expected this week. The FCC is mulling a decision on yet a third NAACP complaint against Murdoch. That complaint alleges that News Corp.'s ownership interest in eight stations violates U.S. foreign-ownership rules.
Last week, the agency’s Mass Media Bureau recommended that News Corp. reduce its equity control of the eight Fox TV stations to about 25% from 99%. Sources say the FCC is considering allowing Murdoch a lengthy restructuring period to ease the financial impact on the 64-year-old billionaire.