Orange County Register

The Orange County Register building in Santa Ana. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times)

Andrew Khouri
March 18, 2016

A U.S. District Court judge has approved a temporary restraining order to block Tribune Publishing’s purchase of the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise, a decision that the owner of the Los Angeles Times has described as a “death-knell” to its bid.

The order, approved late Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte Jr., prohibits Tribune from moving forward with its $56-million cash offer for the two newspapers owned by bankrupt Freedom Communications.

Birotte scheduled a hearing for March 28 to decide whether to block the sale beyond that date on antitrust concerns that the sale would harm consumers and advertisers.

The Justice Department argued that the deal would allow Tribune to raise prices to advertisers and subscribers by controlling 98% of English-language local daily newspapers for sale in Orange County.

In Riverside County, Tribune, which purchased the San Diego Union-Tribune last year, would own four of the top five English-language newspapers by circulation, according to the department.

Tribune and some media and antitrust experts have criticized the government’s argument as outdated.
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“The Division is living in a time capsule, with a framework that predates the arrival of iPhones, Google, Facebook, and modern media outlets that are killing the traditional newspaper industry,” Tribune Publishing spokeswoman Dana Meyer said earlier this week. “It wasn’t competition from the L.A. Times that forced the Register into bankruptcy. It was the Internet and related technology.”

But Birotte said that the government has shown “a likelihood of success on the merits of its claim.”

He noted that many online websites don’t produce original content, but “primarily post links to stories on the websites of other content generators – including local newspapers like the Register or the Press-Enterprise.”

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