I love the smell of antitrust lawsuits in the morning...

Posted by Mitchell - May 9, 2003 (entry 35)

...especially when it's against the Tribune Company.

Update. Here's the full text of the article, in case the link disappears:

Courant parent could face antitrust lawsuit

By Harlan Levy, Journal Inquirer May 07, 2003

If the Federal Communications Commission abandons its strict anti-monopoly media ownership rules - as it's expected to do at its June 2 meeting - state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says he'll consider filing suit under Connecticut antitrust law against Tribune Co., owner of The Hartford Courant, the Hartford Advocate, WTIC-TV61, and WTXX-TV20, all in the Hartford market.

Tribune also owns daily newspapers in Stamford and Greenwich.

The current rules prohibit cross-ownership of a newspaper and a TV station in the same market. Tribune has failed to comply with the FCC's 21-month-old order to divest either the TV stations or the Courant. But the FCC has not enforced the order, granting Tribune waivers that expired last August.

The FCC also hasn't acted on an extension request from Tribune, pending the June 2 decision, which might allow Tribune to maintain the status quo or expand its stable of media properties in single markets.

Blumenthal - one of only a handful of state attorneys general to file a brief favoring the current rules - plans to consider after the FCC's June meeting whether to mount an antitrust challenge, according to a brief he recently filed in support of retaining the commission's decades-old restrictions.

"The trend since 1996," Blumenthal stated in his brief, "has been unprecedented consolidation, stemmed only by the commission's ownership rules, which have stood as a safeguard to the public's ability to receive a multiplicity of viewpoints and voices by preserving competition within and among the media."

A majority of Connecticut's 18 daily news-papers are owned by out-of-state companies like Tribune, which own multiple media outlets, Blumenthal stated.

"Localism is not being well served by the status quo," the brief said, "and any further diminution in local editorial direction would not be likely to serve the public interest."

Repeal of the rules, Blumenthal stated, "would be a disservice to the nation and could require the attorneys general of individual states and other antitrust enforcement officials to attempt to fill the void."

The actions they would be forced to take include "litigation, as further consolidation of the media would substantially lessen competition and impair the public's First Amendment rights" by curtailing diversity of viewpoint that is "necessary to the public's interest in free speech."

Blumenthal declined comment today specifically on whether he would sue Tribune, but the brief strongly cites the Tribune case, strongly implying that he might well review it.

"We will have to review each situation on its own facts and circumstances," Blumenthal said. "The antitrust action would involve particular situations where ownership so dominated a single market."

The states have a continued obligation to enforce the antitrust laws, Blumenthal said in the brief, "which we will pursue vigorously if the federal government abandons its respon-sibilities in this area."

The current rules - adopted in the early 1970s to preserve diversity and avoid media monopolies - also limit single ownership of TV stations to 35 percent of the national audience, and bar any cable owner from reaching more than 30 percent of the national audience.

To date, three of the five commissioners - all Republicans, including Chairman Michael K. Powell - appear to support repealing the rule, citing federal court rulings that found the rules out-of-date and unnecessarily restrictive in light of the explosion of cable, Internet, and other news sources.

A federal court has ordered the FCC to drop or relax the rules unless there's evidence that changing them would destroy diversity of viewpoint and local competition.

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