Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Antitrust News: A Voice for Liberty?

The Village Voice is indeed a strange creature. As you may know, I'm currently pursuing an independent appeal of the Justice Department's manufactured "alternative newsweekly" antitrust case that involves Village Voice and its chief national competitor, NT Media. This week there's a report in the LA Weekly—a Voice-owned paper that was part of the antitrust dispute—on my efforts:
Remember that antitrust lawsuit?

The one in which the federal government accused the owners of News Times L.A. and the L.A. Weekly of violating antitrust laws by conspiring to divide up markets in L.A. and Cleveland? At last look, prosecutors had declared victory, while the companies admitted no guilt but paid fines. They also submitted to conditions, as part of a settlement, that paved the way for more competition in these two media markets.

In short, the feds think the case is over. So do the newspapers.

But it’s not over for S.M. “Skip” Oliva of Citizens for Voluntary Trade, a Washington, D.C.–based libertarian group. Oliva wants to reopen the case based on his claim that the judge denied adequate time for public comment. Ostensibly, Oliva is taking the side of the newspapers. His group opposes antitrust laws as an abridgment of citizens’ freedom to conduct commerce, and even as a violation of constitutional rights.

In the deal in question, NT Media agreed to shut down New Times L.A., leaving L.A. Weekly as the sole citywide alternative weekly in L.A., while Village Voice Media (the Weekly’s parent) agreed to close its publication in Cleveland, leaving that market to NT’s Cleveland Scene. New Times netted $9 million in the transactions.

When contacted about Oliva’s motion to intervene, one Voice Media executive rolled her eyes and said she expected nothing to come of it, but she quickly added that her reaction was strictly off the record.
This is a somewhat misleading description of what I'm actually doing. I'm not reopening the case, but attempting to appeal it. And I'm not arguing the judge "denied adequate time for public comment". The judge in fact allowed for exactly the amount of public comment time provided for in federal law. My allegation addresses the Justice Department's misconduct in carrying out the judgment itself before the statutory comment period expired. Obviously, this also entails an allegation that the judge abused his discretion in failing to prevent the government's actions, but the principal source of the malfeasance was the DOJ.

As for the alleged reaction of the Voice executive to my motion, if true it's hardly surprising. The Voice didn't even bother to put up a fight. NT Media made several statements proclaiming its innocence and savaging the DOJ for bringing this case, but the Voice has never uttered a word in its own defense.

It's interesting: On the same page as the Weekly's story was displayed, there was a paid advertisement for a law firm that specializes in class-action antitrust lawsuits. The page also teased the Weekly's feature story on the decline of civil liberties under John Ashcroft's Justice Department. It's fairly obvious the Weekly—and its parent company—don't consider the right to engage in economic trade free of government coercion to be a genuine civil liberty.

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