THE MURDOCH PRECEDENT

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Fox implies something sly. But how sneaky, smart or simply lucky Rupert Murdoch has been with Fox Broadcasting may never be truly known. What's known are his results.

He's overcome a recession; attacks from critics and pressure groups; the loss of Barry Diller; a scandal involving a trusted aide, a male stripper and the Secretary of Defense; and Chevy Chase. And, by carefully timing the expansion of his Fox network, he artfully dodged two big government hurdles: the Federal Communications Commission's Prime Time Access Rule and the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules.

He side-stepped other rules limiting the number of stations and national reach a single broadcaster can control, and bypassed restrictions on cross-ownership of media properties in a single market. And last week he announced a bold alliance with MCI Communications to offer new media services globally

His most recent regulatory triumph has drawn complaints, however. The FCC, ruling that Australia-based News Corp.'s ownership of Fox violates foreign-ownership rules, nonetheless is expected to grant a waiver. We can support the FCC if, as expected, it finds News Corp.'s control of Fox and its owned stations "in the public interest." Unquestionably, he's ended the entrenched Big 3 network oligopoly.

But the waiver begs a question: If it was in the public interest for Mr. Murdoch, why not for others? The FCC may have to answer that soon as Canada-based Seagram Co. explores the synergies of linking newly acquired MCA with a broadcast concern.

The foreign ownership rules were created for national security reasons when broadcast licensees wielded great control over access to the public. But applied to today's much different TV landscape, the rules look dated and overly restrictive. If the FCC later finds such change a mistake, it can always follow the Murdoch precedent ..... and change its rules again.

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