Media Alliance intervenes in SF Chronicle/MediaNews case

"This may be the biggest news story about the news in a generation and all the facts need to be out." -- Jim Wheaton, Counsel

(San Francisco) Media Alliance and The SF Bay Guardian today moved to intervene in the landmark federal court case over newspaper consolidation in the Bay Area, Reilly v.s The Hearst Corporation et al. The intervention seeks to make public key documents filed in Clint Reilly's challenge to the legality of MediaNews Group's purchase of the Contra Costa Times, the San Jose Mercury News and some 30 other local papers.

"When two corporate giants are trying to dominate an entire region's newspapers, it's critical that the public understand what's going on,"said Jeff Perlstein, Executive Director of Media Alliance. "Ironically, these publishers, who love to protect themselves in the cloak of the First Amendment, are pushing to keep basic information from the public."

Real-state investor Clint Reilly, who filed the initial suit, argues among other things that MediaNews and Hearst Corporation, which owns the San Francisco Chronicle, are planning to collude to limit competition in the Bay Area newspaper market. The few documents from the suit that have been discussed in open court show that the two media giants - who are ostensibly competitors - have been discussing joint printing, ad sales and other business deals.

But the most important briefs and evidence in the case remain in sealed court files. The terms of the secrecy stipulation allow the defendants - which include some of the nation's largest newspaper chains - to unilaterally mark any legal documents confidential, and keep them out of public view.

"The courts are supposed to operate in public, and there's a clear public interest in this information," said Bruce B. Brugmann, editor and publisher of the Bay Guardian. "Our intent here is that the nation's biggest newspaper chains, as they move to destroy daily competition and impose a regional monopoly on the Bay Area, cannot do so in the dark of night with sealed records that set a terrible precedent for the newspaper business and the First Amendment."

The groups are being represented by the First Amendment Project, a nonprofit support law firm in Oakland that has provided low cost and pro bono representation to protect First Amendment rights for fifteen years. "There is a well established constitutional right for the public to have access to court proceedings and records, with only rare exception," said Jim Wheaton, senior counsel for the First Amendment Project. "We expect the parties here, especially the parties in this case, as well as the court to continue to honor that tradition. This may be the biggest news story about the news in a generation and all the facts need to be out."

Media Alliance is a 30-year-old nonprofit media advocacy group with 1,800 members. The Bay Guardian is an independently owned and operated weekly newspaper.

Defendants in the case include Hearst, MediaNews, Gannet Corp., the McClatchy Group, and Stephens Media.

The Bay Guardian and Media Alliance are represented by attorneys Jim Wheaton and David Greene of the First Amendment Project.

article originally published at http://www.media-alliance.org/article.php?story=20061221101811132.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey