The newly formed Markets and Financial Fraud Division of the Utah attorney general’s office will handle an investigation into the circumstances surrounding a recent renegotiation of the joint-operating agreement between The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, officials said Saturday.
The new deal that went into effect Jan. 1 slashed in half The Tribune’s revenues from the papers’ operating partnership, sold its share in printing facilities and gave the News control over the newspapers’ joint operations.
Opponents of the new agreement argue it threatens The Tribune’s survival and violates antitrust law. Citizens for Two Voices, a group that includes former Tribune employees, had met with the AG’s office "to discuss the group’s allegation that the newspaper agreement violates antitrust law." Citizens for Two Voices also filed a lawsuit on Monday asking a federal judge to immediately halt financial dealings between the two newspapers.
Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office does not want to duplicate efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has been conducting its own investigation into the agreement.
"I believe in the value of diverse editorial viewpoints and independent news-gathering for an informed citizenry," Reyes said Saturday.
David Sonnenreich, director of the Markets and Financial Fraud Division, noted that the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to review and approve joint operating agreements between newspapers, but added that "the state still has an independent interest in investigating and enforcing our antitrust laws outside of the scope of that federal review."
The AG’s news release notes "an investigation in and of itself does not indicate wrongdoing has occurred. It can be a mechanism to bring to light bad conduct or validate proper conduct."
Deseret News Editor Paul Edwards on Saturday issued a statement repeating that the new JOA preserves the newpaper’s commitment "to multiple editorial voices and expands protections for both papers."
"It is unfortunate that so much misinformation and hyperbole have been shared about the amended joint operating agreement between the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune," Edwards said. "As yet, we have not had so much as a simple fact-finding inquiry from the Utah Attorney General’s Office. We are confident that as the attorney general examines the facts more closely, he will recognize that all parties entered into this agreement in good faith."
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