Ruling on FCC media ownership rules may impact Cox Media Group sale

This press release was released today by Cox Media Group.

A recent federal court ruling reversing a 2017 FCC decision to eliminate an outdated rule prohibiting ownership of both a daily print publication and radio or TV broadcast stations in the same market may impact Cox Media Group’s sale to Terrier Media.

This decision will potentially make it necessary for the Dayton Daily News, the Springfield News-Sun and the Journal-News to reduce the number of days of print publication so that they are no longer considered daily papers subject to the rule.

It is not clear that the papers will need to go to non-daily status in order for the deal to be approved.

“That is just one potential scenario we are considering,” Cox Media Group President Kim Guthrie said. “However, to plan for this contingency, we are working on a strategy to move quickly to ensure the Ohio papers return to daily print publication as soon as possible post-closing.”

Cox Enterprises Inc., which owns Cox Media Group, will retain an option to buy the newspapers back from Terrier in the event the papers will need to limit the print publication to three times per week to meet the regulatory guidelines under Terrier ownership.

“My team is working diligently to ensure our operations fully comply with the court’s decision, while working hard to plan for any scenario. We hope to not have to reduce days of printing,” said Cox Media Group Ohio Market Vice President Rob Rohr, who is also the publisher of the three newspapers.

In February, Cox Media Group signed an agreement to sell all its TV stations across the country as well as all its Ohio media companies to Terrier Media. Terrier filed for regulatory approval with the Federal Communications Commission and has been waiting on approval. In Ohio, the deal includes WHIO-TV, radio stations WHIO, WHKO and WZLR, and the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and the Journal-News.

However, in September, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the 2017 decision by the FCC to eliminate the newspaper-broadcast cross ownership rule. The Third Court’s decision revived the 1975 rule, which prohibits one company from owning a daily newspaper and broadcast radio or television stations in the same market. Cox had been exempt from the 1975 rule because the company already owned the newspaper, radio and TV properties in the Dayton market prior to the enactment of the rule, but that grandfathered status would not transfer with the sale to Terrier.

To address the potential conflict, Terrier filed an amendment with the FCC on Monday indicating, if necessary, it would be willing to reduce printing of the papers to three times per week instead of the current seven, making the papers non-daily. The filing further states, “under this alternative structure, Cox would obtain an option to re-acquire the newspapers and restore them to daily status, although the parties first would need to develop a plan to separate the newspapers from the currently integrated media operations in Ohio.”

The ruling also potentially impacts the Atlanta market, where Cox will retain the Atlanta Journal Constitution while at the same time maintaining a minority interest in the new company created by Terrier in connection with the sale. To resolve the issues, the FCC filing indicates that Cox has agreed to give up its active Board seat on Terrier’s board.

A statement from Cox said the Ohio market “has been a gold-standard for successfully integrating a media market that provides consistent, insightful and impactful news and entertainment to our community digitally, on television, radio and in print.”

“For nearly a decade Cox Media Group Ohio has forwarded the mission of journalism for our community by working together across all of our media to inform, inspire and entertain readers, listeners and viewers in our region. That work has changed lives, helped our advertisers’ businesses grow and cast a light on issues that our community needed to tackle together to bring about change,” Rohr said. “All of us here in Ohio will be focused on making sure that mission of supporting daily journalism continues.”

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