Thursday, October 7, 1999

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

Group will seek
restraining order

Save Our Star-Bulletin filed suit
yesterday, along with the state,
charging antitrust violations

SOS lawsuit: What's next, who's
paying and who can help

By Debra Barayuga


A group of private citizens hopes to go to court this week to seek a temporary restraining order to stop the Star-Bulletin from closing.

The action follows the filing of two lawsuits yesterday by Save Our Star-Bulletin and the state attorney general's office.

The suits filed in U.S. District Court contend that the closing violates state and federal antitrust laws and asks the court to order Liberty Newspapers, owner of the Star-Bulletin, to continue operating and if not, to put the newspaper up for sale. The suits also name as defendants Gannett Co. Inc., Hawaii Newspaper Agency Limited Partnership and Gannett Pacific Corp.

Thomas L. Chapple, Gannett's senior vice president and general counsel, said today: "We will vigorously contest both lawsuits."

SOS attorney Randall Harakal said he hopes to file a motion for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court as early as tomorrow, asking the court to maintain status quo pending action on the lawsuit.

Both the state and citizen cases will be heard by District Judge Alan C. Kay.

District Judge Samuel P. King had been assigned the state's complaint, but he filed an order recusing himself from the case. King said he has publicly expressed an opinion on the subject matter of the suit and he recused himself to preserve the appearance and the fact of impartiality, according to the state's attorney's office.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Ah Quon McElrath showed her SOS button
in front of federal court yesterday.

Meanwhile, both the Star-Bulletin and Gannett Co.-owned Honolulu Advertiser continue to operate under the original Oct. 30 shutdown date.

Star-Bulletin Editor and Publisher John Flanagan said that although the suits ask for injunctive relief, there is no order at this point that changes plans for the closing.

Said Star-Bulletin Managing Editor Dave Shapiro, "In terms of daily operation, we're not changing anything. We are putting out the best paper we can every day until our owner or the courts instruct us otherwise."

"We don't want to get involved in speculation; I'd hate to see false hopes raised," Shapiro said. "Obviously all of us (on the staff) would love to see the Star-Bulletin continue publishing. It's just a question of whether this offers any promise of that happening."

Meanwhile, two media observers don't see how the lawsuits will succeed in keeping the Star-Bulletin alive.

"I don't believe that you can force someone to stay in business, so I doubt that (the lawsuits) hold much promise," said Bob Haiman, former executive editor of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and currently Distinguished editor in residence at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg and a Freedom Forum fellow at the Media Studies Center in New York.

"I suspect the suit(s), irrespective of (their) legal grounding, is emblematic of the kind of both anger and sadness that people feel when one newspaper dies," he said.

Sandy Davidson, an attorney and associate professor of journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, said the key point before the court will be intent.

"Any time you have an antitrust lawsuit, the key word is intent," she said. If the court finds there is an intent "to monopolize, to restrict trade, then that would be a problem. If a business is just trying to put itself in a better competitive situation, but the intent is not to monopolize," that's a different situation, she said.

Another problem, Davidson sees, emphasizing that she was just speaking in general terms, was that there is a big difference between a court issuing a restraining order versus ordering someone to do something.

"If you have an order that says "thou shalt do something,' then courts often are reluctant because they don't want to try to supervise what is going on," Davidson said.

In announcing his decision to end the 20-year agreement with Gannett, Liberty's principal investor, Rupert Phillips, said the return on their investment was not satisfactory. He said he had not offered the paper for sale.

The suit filed by the state alleges that Gannett and Liberty Newspapers conspired to monopolize the market for English language newspapers of general circulation on Oahu.

While a business has the right to close its doors, the Star-Bulletin was in a unique situation from other papers that have folded in that it was making a profit and benefiting from the joint operating agreement, Harakal said.

Shutting down the Star-Bulletin violates the Newspaper Preservation Act, which allowed cities with competing newspapers limited exemptions from antitrust rules in return for keeping both papers operating, Harakal said.

Star-Bulletin writers Mary Adamski and June Watanabe contributed to this report.

SOS lawsuit: What's next, who's
paying and who can help

Question: What's next in the lawsuits?

Answer: A hearing on a motion for a temporary restraining order could be scheduled within five days of yesterday's filing. A temporary restraining order is usually effective for 10 days, but the courts can extend it.

For a judge to grant the order, plaintiffs have to show "reasonable cause" that they will succeed on the merits of their complaint.

In the meantime, attorneys will seek a more permanent injunction, said Randall Harakal, attorney for Save Our Star-Bulletin. The judge assigned to the case can decide to put it on a fast track and bring the case to trial sooner.

If Rupert Phillips, principal investor in Liberty Newspapers, is not willing to put the paper up for sale, the court could order him to, Harakal said.

Q: How will this affect newspaper readers?

A: Letters sent by Hawaii Newspaper Agency to Star-Bulletin subscribers informed them that their subscriptions will be transferred to Advertiser delivery after Oct. 30.

Advertiser publisher Michael Fisch said that will remain the case unless the court issues a temporary restraining order.

Q: What does it mean to 150 newspaper employees facing loss of their jobs after Oct. 30?

A: Negotiations between unions and the company are expected to resume on effects of the announced layoffs.

Q: Can others join the Save Our Star-Bulletin effort?

A: Yes. Petitions are being circulated and are available from the Save Our Star-Bulletin office at 451 Atkinson Drive, the ILWU building.

The organization will have a telephone hot line established by next week.

It has a Web site,

A town hall meeting will be held at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Washington Middle School cafetorium.

The SOS plaintiffs are financing the suit but hope the community will support their efforts. The organization will accept donations.

Star-Bulletin staff

Star-Bulletin closing Oct. 30, 1999

E-mail to City Desk

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