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Allegations by the managers of the Salt Lake Tribune that the newspaper's new owner, MediaNews Group, has attempted to violate antitrust laws are "legally insufficient," according to the Denver-based company.

In court documents filed Monday, MediaNews attorneys claim the Salt Lake Tribune Publishing Co., which manages the day-to-day operations of the newspaper, is really complaining "that they would do a better job of publishing the Tribune than MNG."

The managers tweaked their original complaint against MediaNews on March 21, adding several claims for relief under the Sherman and Clayton acts, which are antitrust laws.

The managers allege that since buying the paper from AT&T Corp. on Jan. 2, MediaNews has made changes to the joint operating agreement that governs both the Tribune and the Deseret News. Those changes, the managers said, "affect interstate commerce."

"The anti-competitive agreement . . . will injure not only SLTPC as a potential competitor but will injure competition in general," the amended complaint said.

The managers owned the newspaper before they agreed to a $731 million tax-free stock swap with Tele-Communications Inc. in 1997. AT&T bought the newspaper when it merged with TCI in 1999.

The managers argue that agreements struck with TCI in 1997 give them the right to manage the Tribune now and purchase the newspaper back in the summer of 2002.

The managers claim MediaNews would allow the Deseret News to "exercise its monopoly power to raise both subscription and advertising rates" to the detriment of "consumers, advertisers and competition in general."

MediaNews disputes the allegations and claims the managers' "supposed loss of rights" under the 1997 agreements has "nothing to do with injury to competition."

"The antitrust laws do not allow courts to speculate over who would be a more effective shareholder or officer in a corporation," the court documents say. "Otherwise, every proxy fight and management dispute would become an antitrust case, with courts picking winners based on subjective criteria."

Besides, MediaNews lawyers argue, antitrust claims such as those forwarded by the Tribune managers are invalid under the 1970 Newspaper Preservation Act, which permits certain joint activities between newspapers without antitrust liability.

"The merger that eliminated competition between (the Tribune and Deseret News) was the one that occurred in 1952 when the JOA was formed," MediaNews attorneys wrote. "Substituting one owner for another in the JOA . . . has no impact on the type of competition" with which the managers are concerned.


E-mail: mtitze@desnews.com