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Gray Television takes FCC to court over Alaska duopoly fine

The agency fined Gray more than a half-million dollars for operating a CBS and NBC affiliate in Anchorage.

The agency fined Gray more than a half-million dollars for operating a CBS and NBC affiliate in Anchorage.

The logo of Gray Television set aside the skyline of Atlanta, where the company is headquartered.
(Logo courtesy Gray Television, Graphic designed by The Desk)

Gray Television has filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency proposed a fine totaling more than a half-million dollars for purported violations of broadcast ownership rules.

The fine, upheld by the FCC last November, was focused on Gray’s acquisition of certain broadcast assets of KTVA (Channel 11), the CBS affiliate in Anchorage.

The purchase saw Gray purchasing everything except KTVA’s broadcast license, which remained with Denali Media Holdings, the parent company of local cable operator GCI.

The acquisition saw KTVA go off the air, with the CBS affiliation moved to low-power television station KYES (Channel 5). The KYES call letters were changed to KAUU, and the newsroom employees and assets of the former KTVA were integrated into Gray’s other Anchorage TV station, NBC affiliate KTUU (Channel 2).

The FCC typically prohibits one broadcast company from owning or operating two of the four largest outlets in any given market, unless the media company requests a waiver. The FCC said Gray never received its blessing to acquire KTVA, and its acquisition of KTVA violated federal ownership rules.

In 2021, the FCC said it proposed a $518,000 fine against Gray Television for the violation. Gray appealed, claiming the FCC never notified it about the apparent violation before pushing forward with the fine, and arguing that the issue should be moot anyway because federal regulation restricts agencies from picking and choosing which content airs on local stations. The FCC rejected Gray’s appeal last November.

“By executing and consummating an agreement to apparently purchase the CBS affiliation from KTVA for [KAUU], Gray caused a change in network affiliation that resulted in Gray’s owning and operating the top two of the top-four stations in the Anchorage [market]…in violation of Commission’s rules,” the FCC said late last year.

Gray is now asking the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate the fine. In its motion before the court, Gray reiterated many of the arguments from its earlier appeal to the FCC — namely, that the agency doesn’t have the right to regulate content on television, and that the ownership rule is an attempt to do just that.

Gray also said its First Amendment right is being violated because the FCC is “penalizing” the broadcaster’s decision to air both CBS and NBC programming, without proving that there is a legitimate government interest in doing so.

The FCC has not yet responded to Gray’s petition to the appellate court.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).