(Adds Sinclair reaction, updated stock prices)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, June 15 A U.S. court on Thursday
declined to block the Federal Communications Commission from
easing Obama-era limits on local television ownership, which
could have prevented Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc from
buying assets of Tribune Media Co, one of the largest
U.S. TV station operators.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
declined to issue an emergency order blocking the FCC's vote in
April to reverse a 2016 order limiting the number of television
stations some broadcasters can buy. Critics said in a court
filing that failing to block the FCC rule "will usher in a wave
of media consolidation."
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a Georgetown University law
professor representing a coalition of groups that had sued, said
the decision was "extremely disappointing. But the case is far
from over, and we feel that we have a strong case once it is
fully briefed and argued."
Shares in Tribune rose 5.6 percent to $41.23 on the news,
while Sinclair was up 3.3 percent to $36.00.
Sinclair said in a statement it was "pleased that the court
denied the motion for an emergency stay of a rule that had been
in effect for decades."
As part of the $3.9 billion deal, Sinclair has said it may
still have to sell certain of its stations, such as those in St.
Louis and Salt Lake City, to comply with FCC regulations.
Under rules adopted in 1985, stations with weaker
over-the-air signals could only be partially counted against a
broadcaster's ownership cap. But last year, the FCC, under
Democratic President Barack Obama, said those rules were
outdated after the 2009 conversion to digital broadcasting,
which eliminated the differences in signal strength. It revoked
the rules in September.
In April, the FCC voted to undo the Obama change.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai also said he plans to take a new look
at the current overall limit on companies owning stations
serving no more than 39 percent of U.S. television households.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, called the vote
in April a "huge gift for large broadcasters with ambitious
dreams of more consolidation." She said it "will have an
immediate impact on the purchase and sale of television
U.S. broadcasting and publishing group Meredith Corp
spokesman Art Slusark said in April the vote "may open up the
opportunity for more acquisition opportunities." Its shares rose
1 percent on Thursday.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Dan Grebler and Tom