Freedom sells TV stations

Mary Ann Milbourn

IRVINE, Calif. — Freedom Communications Inc. has agreed to sell its television division to Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. It’s a $385 million deal that will leave the company and its newspapers free of debt, Freedom announced Wednesday.

Freedom newspapers include the Clovis News Journal, Portales News-Tribune and Quay County Sun.

The sale of Freedom’s eight television stations, none of which are in New Mexico, is expected to close in four to six months subject to Freedom shareholder, Federal Communications Commission and antitrust approval.

Mitchell Stern, Freedom’s CEO, said the television sale will eliminate the company’s debt so management can concentrate on the 100 daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and other specialty publications.

Freedom emerged from bankruptcy in April 2010 with $325 million in debt, some of which has been paid down in the past 18 months. The privately held company began pursuing strategic alternatives for its properties about a year ago.

“This is the final chapter of bankruptcy,” Stern said. “As a company essentially free of debt, Freedom will have greater financial flexibility allowing us to take advantage of opportunities that may arise in the future.”

Stern said Freedom will now focus on completing its transformation into a digital media company that goes beyond traditional print to take advantage of the technological innovations that can better serve readers and advertisers.

He did not provide any specifics, saying that would come as the company refocuses on its publishing properties.

Freedom, which began as a newspaper company, started expanding into broadcast in 1981 when it purchased KTVL/10, a CBS affiliate in Medford, Ore. The broadcast division has since added seven other stations and now has five CBS affiliates, two ABC and one CW and reaches 2.63 percent of U.S. households.