WASHINGTON, DC: FCC chairman Kevin J Martin is an accommodating soul - especially when a proposed $8.2 billion media takeover deal needs a little help from its friends.

Billionaires, of course, are rarely short of pals and Chicago-based real estate tycoon Sam Zell is no exception.

Right now Sam is itching to complete his agreed acquisition of the Tribune Company, America's second-largest newspaper publisher whose stable includes the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Hartford Courant, and the Baltimore Sun.

However, there's a slight snag impeding the deal. It concerns America's inconvenient cross-media ownership rules, which prevent any newspaper proprietor from also owning a TV station within the same city or local market.

And since Zell has a controlling interest in a number of TV operations, the rules require a selloff of some of those asserts - a situation that would delay completion of the Tribune deal.

Enter Martin, the FCC's White House appointee.

In a noble gesture of cooperation he has abruptly proposed a FCC vote today, Friday, that a waiver of the ownership rules be granted so as to facilitate completion of Zell's takeover.

The issue has acquired additional significance, having become part of a poker game between FCC proponents and opponents of a wider deal to relax all media ownership restrictions - a goal on which Martin has publicly set his heart.

Indeed, one of his fellow commissioners, Democrat appointee Jonathan Adelstein, has publicly accused him of using Tribune as a negotiating ploy to persuade his fellow FCC commissioners to accede to an ownership free-for-all.

As if!

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online. additional content by WARC staff