Wednesday, November 3, 1999

Star-Bulletin closing after 117 years

U.S. Justice asks
9th Circuit to delay
Bulletin closure

The Federal agency
joins with state in
the appeals battle




The U.S. Justice Department today asked a federal appeals court to continue delaying a planned shutdown of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, saying legal challenges may raise “important” antitrust questions that could affect future enforcement.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the department said its Antitrust Division is investigating the planned closure, announced in September by the Star-Bulletin’s owner, Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership.

The announcement followed an agreement between Liberty and Gannett Pacific Corp., owner of the Honolulu Advertiser, terminating a joint operating agreement between the two newspapers.

The department has not determined if there is a violation of federal antitrust laws, but “we are concerned that a failure to preserve the status quo now will, as a practical matter, make effective relief impossible should there be a violation,” said the brief filed by Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein.

The department asked that a preliminary injunction granted Oct. 13 by U.S. District Judge Alan Kay be affirmed, although saying it should be modified to avoid First Amendment issues.

The Justice Department’s brief was filed to support the state, whose lawsuit challenging the closure led to the injunction.

Today was the deadline for the state to file with the 9th Circuit its response to an appeal of Kay’s order by Liberty and Gannett.

The state claims in its response that the termination agreement and planned closure violate state and federal antitrust laws.

“The agreement was part of an overall conspiracy between the publishers to shut down the smaller newspaper,” and establish the Advertiser “as the only daily English-language newspaper of general circulation published and distributed on the island of Oahu,” the state’s brief says.

Gannett and Liberty argue that the injunction violates the First Amendment, and that the planned closing does not violate antitrust laws. They have until Nov. 10 to file a final brief.

They are being supported in a friend-of-the-court brief filed by, among others, the Newspaper Association of America, Associated Press, the Hearst Corp., E.W. Scripps Co, Cox Enterprises Inc. and Pulitzer Inc.

The Justice Department’s Antitrust Division last month issued a civil demand for document to the Hawaii Newspaper Agency, the Gannett-owned entity which sells distributes, publishes and sells advertising for both the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin.

A department spokeswoman said the division’s investigation began Oct. 4.

Under the termination agreement, the Star-Bulletin’s final issue was supposed to have been published this past Saturday. However, that was forestalled by Kay’s injunction.


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