FCC decides to reconsider sale of ex-senator's radio stations

Saturday, February 26th 2005, 3:17 pm
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Federal Communications Commission has decided to reconsider a staff decision that allowed longtime Oklahoma state Sen. Gene Stipe to sell a group of radio stations, agency officials said.

The agency's decision to allow the sale was disclosed in a letter on Jan. 18 to lawyers for the four radio stations. They were being sold for $2.2 million by companies controlled by Stipe, who pleaded guilty in 2003 to felony conspiracy and perjury charges.

But FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell apparently reversed course and determined the staff decision should be reviewed, the New York Times reported Saturday.

The decision to approve the sale was considered by some media experts to be a significant deregulation of the broadcast ownership rules, because the agency has long required the forfeiture of radio licenses to the commission by those who fail a character test.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a lawyer who heads the Media Access Project, has been critical of the sale. He said he discovered the deal during an Internet search on a separate issue and was immediately outraged by its implications.

``This involves somebody who has pleaded guilty to tampering with an election in the service area of these stations and is a clear demonstration of how the democratic process has been corrupted by this man,'' he said. ``I cannot imagine a more powerful case for loss of license and a weaker case for enriching him.''

Schwartzman then tried to get the commission to reconsider the staff's decision. He was told there would not be the three votes from among the five commissioners that would be needed for the commission to intervene.

The decision also followed sharp questions about the staff's opinion by Jonathan S. Adelstein, one of the Democratic commissioners, who was supported in his effort by a second Democratic member, Michael J. Copps.

``This deal demands a lot more scrutiny than it's gotten, and I now expect that it will get the review that it deserves,'' Mr. Adelstein said. ``Lying to the government raises serious questions about a broadcaster's character under our long-standing policy. I've raised concerns with my colleagues that letting a convicted perjurer profit from the sale of these stations may be a dangerous departure from our past precedent.''

Richard R. Zaragoza, a partner at the law firm of Shaw Pittman who represented Stipe and the buyers of the stations, said he was surprised by the reversal and defended the January staff opinion.

One of the principals of the companies purchasing the stations is state Sen. Richard Lerblance, who now holds Stipe's old seat in the Oklahoma Senate.

Lerblance said Saturday he was caught off guard by the New York Times article, and that he's not sure the matter has been set for a hearing before the FCC.

``Without question, it was a surprise to us,'' Lerblance said. ``I'm just kind of dismayed that this would come out of left field in the last hour.

``Our lawyers in Washington are pursuing this matter, and we're leaving it in their hands.''