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The Federal Communications Commission repealed a ban April 19 that prevented any of the four major broadcast networks from owning UPN, the WB Network and other smaller television outlets. The change is a victory for Viacom Inc., which agreed in May to sell its stake in UPN within 12 months as a condition of acquiring CBS Corp. The new policy will take effect early next month, just a few days before the divestiture deadline. FCC officials said Viacom should not worry if a paperwork delay causes the rule to take effect after UPN is supposed to be sold. “We will make sure they have time to come into compliance with the new rule,” said Roy Stewart, chief of the mass media bureau at the FCC. “We will put something in this document indicating that they won’t have to sell the UPN network.” This is the first of several ownership rules the agency is expected to ease. It also is exploring dropping limits on television station and cable system ownership. FCC commissioners said they feared a forced sale of UPN could result in the network’s closure. That would reduce the diversity of programming available to viewers, they said. “This will buttress local stations that are affiliates of this network,” said FCC Commissioner Susan Ness. The vote was 3-1. FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani dissented, saying the agency should have issued Viacom a waiver rather than repeal the rule outright. A waiver would have permitted the agency to monitor the relationship between the networks to ensure diversity is protected, she said. Tristani expressed concerns that the repeal could lead to additional mergers. “Sadly, the train of consolidation continues to run on time,” Tristani said. The FCC retained a ban on mergers among the four major broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth said the rule is unnecessary because the antitrust agencies already guard against anticompetitive mergers. “I look forward to the day when the commission will repeal the remaining aspects of the ownership rules,” he said. “They are anachronistic.” Copyright (c)2001 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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