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October 2, 1998

Separate Statement
Commissioner Susan Ness

In Re: WTHI(AM)/FM/TV, Terre Haute, IN; WWVR(FM), West Terre Haute, IN; WFTX (TV), Cape Coral, FL: Assignments of License - One to a Market Waiver

Although I support the decision to grant a permanent one-to-a-market waiver, for me it is a closer case than is acknowledged in our order. I am troubled that this decision approves television and radio concentration significantly beyond any combination previously approved.

We are approving the combination of the dominant television station and the dominant radio station in Terre Haute, the 138th market. It is notable that WTHI-TV's high percentage of local television advertising is in some part due to the absence of local stations affiliated with ABC, UPN, or the WB networks. Perhaps this helps alleviate some of the competitive concern, since the market for local television revenue is split, therefore, between three commercial stations rather than the more usual four, five or six. On the other hand, the absence of affiliates for the other networks raises a concern that diversity of television choices is limited in Terre Haute, a two-VHF market with only four commercial television stations. There are also no translators providing over-the-air service from outside the market. In these circumstances, the impact of this combination on the number of separately owned, local, media outlets is heightened. On balance, however, I believe the factors enumerated in the order weigh in favor of the grant, largely because of promised improvements in technical facilities, news and public affairs programming, as well as other benefits that will accrue to the viewers and listeners in Terre Haute.

I also note with approval some of the points made by Commissioner Tristani in her dissent. The fact that the WTHI(AM)/FM/TV combination has existed for more than 25 years does not mean anything except that it was formed before our one-to-a-market rule was adopted. Our rules require us to look at the transaction without regard to its grandfathered status.

Finally, I would agree with Commissioner Tristani that as a general matter, we should do more to follow up on the representations made by applicants to insure that the benefits alleged from the consolidation are, in fact, delivered to the public. I do not doubt that the assignee in this case will fulfill its commitment, but I take this opportunity to note that in our Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Broadcast Ownership Rules (MM Docket No. 91-221, 87-7), we sought comment on proposals to increase the effectiveness of the five factors used to weigh one-to-a-market waiver requests. A means of verifying the fulfillment of pledges may very well be in order. I urge the Commission to complete that rulemaking in the very near future.