With Hearst Corporation threatening to close the San Francisco Chronicle unless it can quickly make dramatic cost cuts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose district is in the heart of San Francisco, is calling on the Department of Justice to weigh the public interest value of saving newspapers in any antitrust review. The speaker spelled out her concerns in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Pelosi wants DOJ’s antitrust watchdogs to balance the public benefit of saving the Chronicle and other newspapers from shutting down against the antitrust law’s goal of blocking anti-competitive behavior. The DOJ had previously blocked Hearst and MediaNews Group from combining their business operations in the Bay Area to cut costs. The Speaker’s letter suggests that DOJ should take a broader view of media competition, considering television and online competition in any future antitrust review of a newspaper combination in the Bay Area.
“I am confident that the Antitrust Division, in assessing any concerns that any proposed mergers or other arrangements in the San Francisco area might reduce competition, will take into appropriate account, as relevant, not only the number of daily and weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, but also the other sources of news and advertising outlets available in the electronic and digital age, so that the conclusions reached reflect current market realities,” Pelosi said in her letter to Holder. “This is consistent with antitrust enforcement in recent years under both Republican and Democratic administrations. And the result will be to allow free market forces to preserve as many news sources, as many viewpoints, and as many jobs as possible,” she added.
Hearst has said that the Chronicle lost $50 million last year and that 2009 is expected to be worse. The largest union at the newspaper ratified a contract over the weekend that will reduce worker benefits and clear the way for at least 150 jobs to be eliminated.
RBR/TVBR observation: OK, how about being consistent? Pelosi should immediately endorse efforts to eliminate the FCC’s broadcast/newspaper crossownership rule and move to allow television duopolies in all markets.