MURDOCH DEAL TO BUY WSJ MAY BE ANNOUNCED TODAY

The family that owns the Wall Street Journal and Rupert Murdoch are close to an agreement that would safeguard the editorial independence of the newspaper if Murdoch takes it over, according to an article appearing in the Journal today (Tuesday). Such an agreement, which could come as early as today, the paper said, would seemingly guarantee a sale of the Journal's parent, Dow Jones, to Murdoch's News Corp for $5 billion, although the Journal said that some members of the Bancroft family are holding out for a higher figure. It was not clear whether the conditions aimed at securing the editorial independence of the Journal would also apply to Murdoch's planned cable business channel, which he reportedly wants to rename the Wall St. Journal Channel.

ARMY WIVES SETS NEW RATINGS RECORD FOR LIFETIME

Only a week after scoring the highest ratings in the history of the women's-oriented Lifetime Channel, the fourth episode of Army Wives topped the previous week's, setting a new record by attracting 3.9 million viewers. In a statement, the channel observed that the series "became the first major network cable drama in five years to increase its audience in Week Four compared to Week One."

PARIS LIBERATED; NO CHEERS FROM BARBARA WALTERS

ABC's Barbara Walters, who had interviewed Paris Hilton by telephone when she was in jail, had apparently expected to land an interview with her following her release and had begun preparing for it when a bidding war broke out. Walters told syndicated gossip columnist Cindy Adams: "When all that pay-for-play stuff happened, I suddenly felt this was not up to my standard. ... It felt tawdry. ... The whole thing somehow was beneath me." (The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that when Hilton learned of Walters' decision, she phoned her from jail. According to an unnamed ABC executive, "She expressed her regret that all kinds of negotiations seemed to have gone outside her control and she only wanted to do this with Barbara.") As things turned out, NBC, which also was trying to land an interview with Hilton, decided not to pursue a deal after reports of the negotiations began appearing in the press, published reports said. Hilton, who was released from jail early today (Tuesday), is due to be interviewed by Larry King on CNN on Wednesday.

LAUER: PAYMENT FOR DIANA CONCERT DID NOT GET HIM HIS "GET"

Today show co-host Matt Lauer insisted on Monday that he did not land an interview with British Princes William and Harry because NBC had agreed to shell out $2.5 million for the rights to air an upcoming tribute concert for Princess Diana. In an interview with reporters, Lauer said, "When the concert deal was signed, they hadn't decided they were even going to do an interview. ... There was no quid pro quo here. There was no, 'We'll do the concert and we get the boys.'" Nevertheless, he added, Do I think the fact that we were airing the concert gave us an enormous advantage? Absolutely. That's a no-brainer ... [but] I can tell you right now, if there had been some quid pro quo, I wouldn't have had to go through the hoops I had to go through." He did not describe the sort of "hoops" he had to go through.

U.K. REGULATOR PUNISHES CHANNEL FOR PHONY CONTEST

Representing the most severe punishment meted out to a television network in British broadcasting history, the Channel Five commercial network was fined more than $600,000 today (Tuesday) by British regulator OFCOM for posting fictitious names of winners of a telephone contest conducted in connection with the daytime quiz show Brainteaser. Before it was canceled following revelations of the alleged fraud, the show, produced by Dutch-based Endemol, reportedly earned $2-4 million in revenue from "premium rate" telephone fees charged to callers who phoned in to solve word puzzles. In one instance a member of the show's production crew was introduced on the air as one of the at-home winning contestants. OFCOM is reportedly conducting additional investigations of British game shows.

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Brian B.