Flurry of documents released 

In what some see as a decisive win for a trio of Davids against two corporate Goliaths, a San Francisco federal court ordered released to the public up to 600 pages of documents in nine files related to the media antitrust lawsuit filed by businessman Clint Reilly against the Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group Inc.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston withheld fewer than 20 pages in the legal motion to open the case up to the public filed by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the nonprofit groups Media Alliance and the First Amendment Project, attorney James Wheaton of the First Amendment Project said.

Earlier reports from other newspapers and wire services about the release of information were misleading. "The monopoly papers in the case mangled the story, tried to make it appear that the Guardian lost, and the monopolizers won," wrote Bruce Brugmann, publisher of the Bay Guardian, in his blog.

"It was left to an independently owned paper like the Guardian and a group like the Media Alliance ... to do this. None of the normal papers or law firms could or would do this," Brugmann told The Examiner.

Reilly’s lawsuit contends Media-News’ Hearst-financed purchase of the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times group stifles competition by dividing up the Bay Area’s newspaper advertising and readership between the two firms.

The consolidation is compounded by the fact that Hearst’s financing makes it a nearly one-third investor in all of MediaNews’ operations outside the Bay Area, and that Hearst has expressed interest in being part-owner of all of MediaNews if it can get federal approval. MediaNews of Denver is one of the largest newspaper publishers in the U.S.

Key documents in the case, particularly a United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division deposition by Hearst Senior VP James Asher, were part of the papers unsealed by Illston’s ruling.

Of particular note was testimony that Hearst discussed selling the San Francisco Chronicle, Northern California’s largest daily newspaper, to MediaNews in 2005, but quickly backed away when a price could not be reached. Some observers took the terms of the latest deal and the other revelations as indication that the two were not being competitive, as they had said they were in court.

"It’s eye-opening," Wheaton said about the Asher testimony.

A Hearst spokesman characterized the sale talks as not serious.

In December, Illston ruled that Hearst and MediaNews may not collaborate on advertising or distribution until the Reilly lawsuit’s trial, scheduled for April 2007, is decided. An April 2006 letter produced by Reilly’s attorney, Joseph Alioto, showed that the two firms had planned to negotiate such collaboration. The firms have said they have taken no steps to implement that deal.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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