State moves to halt
'We want the defendants toCouncil members back delay
leave the Star-Bulletin alone,'
a state official says
By Debra Barayuga
The state is seeking a temporary restraining order against owners of the Star-Bulletin and Gannett Pacific Corp. to put a halt to the afternoon paper's impending shutdown.
The motion filed in U.S. District Court late yesterday comes on the heels of two lawsuits filed Wednesday by the state attorney general and a private citizens' group, saying the termination agreement violated state and federal anti-trust laws.
Liberty announced Sept. 16 that it planned to close the Star-Bulletin at the end of the month.
No hearing date has been set yet on yesterday's request, which will be heard by U.S. District Judge Alan C. Kay.
The state is asking the court to grant the temporary restraining order to preserve the status quo and stop further harm to the Star-Bulletin until the court can fully consider the merits of the case.
"We want the defendants to leave the Star-Bulletin alone," said Deputy Attorney General Rodney Kimura.
The motion alleges that Gannett Pacific Corp., Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership and the Hawaii Newspaper Agency have already taken substantial steps to close the Star-Bulletin, even though Oct. 30 is the announced date of its last publication. Unless stopped, the defendants' actions will cause irreparable harm and impair the state's ability to seek the sale of the Star-Bulletin if Liberty chooses not to continue publishing, said Kimura.
"The court can't give us relief if there's nothing to sell at that point," he said.
Actions that have been taken to implement the shutdown include soliciting Star-Bulletin advertisers, switching subscriber accounts to the Advertiser and taking Star-Bulletin vending racks off the streets to be repainted and reused by the Advertiser.
These efforts threaten the public's confidence in the viability of the Star-Bulletin, Kimura said.
Michael J. Fisch, president and publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, said: "We're gratified that the court will review this matter in an orderly fashion and we look forward to the opportunity to present our arguments and evidence to the court when it considers the matter in detail. We are confident that the court will uphold our position."
Fisch has said that unless the courts issue a temporary restraining order, subscriptions to the Star-Bulletin will be converted to the Advertiser beginning Nov. 1.
Fisch notified Star-Bulletin subscribers of the impending action via a Sept. 20 letter, four days after the shutdown was announced. Star-Bulletin advertisers also were notified, in a letter dated the day of the announcement.
The state contends the termination agreement -- calling for the Star-Bulletin to shut down in exchange for a substantial payment by Gannett -- is illegal.
The state's suit alleges that Gannett and Liberty conspired to eliminate the Star-Bulletin as a competitor and monopolize the market for daily newspapers of general circulation on Oahu, violating anti-trust laws.
In announcing the closure, Liberty's principal investor, Rupert Phillips, said he did not put the Star-Bulletin up for sale and didn't think there would be a buyer.
The state alleges that not only the Star-Bulletin will suffer irreparable harm, but also the state, because it is highly unlikely the 117-year-old newspaper will be reopened once it shuts down.
There is no monetary amount that can compensate for the silencing of the Star-Bulletin's news and editorial voices or the elimination of an important source of democratic expression and controversy, the state says.
Council membersStar-Bulletin staff
City Council members have joined the effort to keep the Honolulu Star-Bulletin alive.
A resolution introduced by four Council members this week urges Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership to stall a planned closure and seek a buyer.
The resolution states that Liberty "has benefited from the anti-trust immunity granted by the Newspaper Preservation Act in the form of reduced costs (and) Liberty Newspapers should now seek to promote the goal of the act of maintaining separate and independent editorial voices in the community."
The resolution was introduced by Council members Jon Yoshimura, Duke Bainum, Rene Mansho and Andy Mirikitani.
It will be heard at the Council's Oct. 20 meeting.