The Federal Communications Commission on Friday approved Tribune Co.'s purchase of 16 television stations owned by Local TV Holdings.
Tribune's collection of TV stations will nearly double in size with the $2.7-billion acquisition of the new stations, which serve such markets as Denver; St. Louis; Kansas City, Mo.; and Salt Lake City.
The acquisition, announced in July, will make Tribune one of the largest television station owners in the country, with nearly 40 stations. Tribune is the parent company of the Los Angeles Times.
The FCC separately approved Gannett Co.'s $2.2-billion acquisition of about 19 TV stations owned by Belo Corp.
Earlier this week, the Department of Justice approved Gannett's acquisition plan but said the Virginia newspaper and broadcasting company would not be allowed to buy a Belo TV station in St. Louis.
Media watchdogs had asked the FCC to deny Tribune's and Gannett's requests to transfer the various FCC station licenses.
The media groups, including Free Press, have sounded alarms about the increasing consolidation of media outlets.
"The FCC has ignored runaway media consolidation for too long," Craig Aaron, chief executive of Free Press, said Friday in a statement. "There was no good reason to let that trend continue. These kinds of deals shutter newsrooms and silence competing viewpoints, harming local service, diversity and competition in media markets across the country."
Tribune CEO Peter Liguori applauded the FCC's decision.
"The logic and investment thesis underlining our acquisition of Local TV is as powerful as it is simple — in a fragmenting media landscape, there is value in scale, for our viewers, advertisers, networks, cable and satellite partners and, most important, the communities we serve," Liguori said.
The FCC said it would also allow a company headed by a former top Tribune executive, Ed Wilson, to buy three Local TV stations serving Scranton, Pa., and Norfolk and Portsmouth, Va.
Tribune owns newspapers in those markets, triggering a potential violation of an FCC rule prohibiting a media company from owning newspapers and TV stations in the same market.
The FCC also said that Tribune, which currently owns 23 TV stations, would be allowed to manage operations of the three stations that will be owned by Wilson's Dreamcatcher Broadcasting, an arrangement known as a "sidecar" deal. The FCC noted that Wilson left Tribune in 2010 and was no longer affiliated with the Chicago-based company.
However, the agency said that Tribune would be prevented from selling advertising time for the three Dreamcatcher stations or holding too much sway over key management decisions.
The arrangement was criticized by Free Press.
"The FCC needs to scrutinize the use of shell companies and sharing agreements in general, and should reconsider and review these deals too," Aaron of Free Press said. "It needs to fix its rules now .... It's time for the agency to tighten its rules, close these loopholes and start promoting local journalism and real news."
Gannett said it was poised to close on its deal to acquire Belo next week.