Freedom Communications Backs Digital First Media Bid After Tribune Trouble

The story has been updated.

The prize does not always go to the highest bidder. Lawyers for bankrupt media company Freedom Communications said they would support a takeover bid by Digital First Media after the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit to block the sale of their assets to Tribune Publishing, the top bidder.

"The bankruptcy court approved the sale of the OC Register to Digital First Media this morning.

The deal will close by March 31, Lobel told the Chicago Tribune.

Digital First owns the Los Angeles Daily News and eight other daily papers in the greater Los Angeles area.

Tribune Publishing's $56 million bid was the winning offer at an auction Thursday, offering nearly $10 million more than Digital First’s runner-up bid to acquire Freedom’s assets, which includes the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise.



But just 24 hours later, the DOJ filed an antitrust lawsuit. The government claimed Tribune's dominant position in both Orange County and Riverside County would allow it to “increase subscription prices and advertising rates to businesses targeting readers in those areas.”

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. issued a temporary restraining order halting the sale to Tribune, citing the need to preserve competition in the area.

But Tribune objected to the DOJ’s request for a temporary restraining order.

“[Tribune’s] interest in acquiring Freedom’s assets through the Bankruptcy Court process has been open and notorious for months,” Tribune’s filing stated.

“Yet, the government showed no interest in the matter until March 8, 2016, just days before the scheduled auction. Now, at the eleventh hour, the DOJ seeks to permanently destroy the Tribune’s ability to acquire these assets, relying on antiquated notions of the relevant market and what competition means in the newspaper industry in today’s digital world with its plethora of sources of news content and advertising platforms,” the filing continued.

Tribune Publishing spokeswoman Hillary Manning said the Justice Department did not understand the modern newspaper industry.

“We believe the Antitrust Division continues to overlook the commercial realities of modern media in which Internet-delivered services are aggressively competing with the newspaper industry,” Manning said, according to the TNM report.

“The practical effect of the order will be to force Freedom’s newspapers into the hands of an alternative bidder that will be less able to reduce cost and achieve efficiencies, with the likely effect that the journalism serving the local communities will be diminished,” she added.

Freedom Communications’ assets will likely be awarded to Digital First, unless Tribune can get a court order delaying the ruling.

The bankruptcy has to close by March 31, when temporary private financing keeping the Freedom newspapers afloat will run out.
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