WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 -- NBC filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday claiming that the bulk of the Fox TV network is illegally owned by Rupert Murdoch's Australia-based News Corp. In the petition, NBC claimed News Corp. violated federal regulations against foreign ownership of more than 25 percent of a U.S. broadcast network. NBC asked the FCC to either lift the restriction or rule that Fox must significantly reduce its level of foreign ownership. Fox officials maintain the FCC approved its current ownership structure back in 1985. Preston Padden, Fox's president of network distribution, said NBC's petition 'is an attempt to abuse FCC processes to delay and impede marketplace competition.' The dispute centers on the six Fox-owned television stations Murdoch bought in 1985 to launch the nation's fourth broadcast TV network. An Australian native, Murdoch became an American citizen in order to purchase the TV stations. At the time, Fox officials told the FCC that 74 percent of the stations would be controlled by the U.S.-based Twentieth Holdings Corp. Earlier this year, however, Fox disclosed that Murdoch's personal financial stake in Twentieth Holdings Corp. was less than 1 percent, with the remainder owned by News Corp. Fox's disclosure came in response to a similar complaint filed against Fox by the NAACP, which argued that excessive foreign-ownership limits job opportunities for minorities. The NAACP complaint prompted an ongoing FCC review of Fox's ownership structure. Coupled with NBC's complaint, the FCC could revoke the stations' broadcast licenses, levy significant fines against Fox and Murdoch or rule that Fox must restructure its finances in accordance with existing regulations.
An FCC spokesman would not comment on the Fox review but said a ruling on the NAACP complaint was imminent. NBC's move is the latest blow in a growing battle between the upstart Fox network and the established broadcast networks. Over the past year, Murdoch-affiliated firms have bought up numerous TV stations formerly affiliated with ABC, CBS or NBC. Fox has also lured affiliates away from NBC and CBS by outbidding the other networks for the broadcast rights to the National Football League games.