Thursday, January 25, 2007

Guardian claims victory in records dispute

The Bay Guardian is disputing news reports that claim the paper didn't get most of the documents it wanted in Clint Reilly's antitrust lawsuit against Hearst Corp. and MediaNews Group. Judge Susan Illston only unsealed two of the 19 documents in question, and those two will be redacted under her order. The AP, the Chronicle and the Press Club web site reported yesterday that most of the documents will remain under seal. But the Guardian, in an online blog entry by editor Tim Redmond, says those reports failed to mention that when the Guardian and co-plaintiff Media Alliance filed their motion to have the records unsealed, Hearst and MediaNews immediately agreed to make most of the filings in the case public.

“MediaNews Group and Hearst were asked by Media Alliance and the Guardian before they intervened to unseal everything. They declined to unseal anything,” said Jim Wheaton, attorney for the First Amendment Project, which represented the Guardian. “But as soon as Media Alliance and the Guardian moved to intervene and unseal, MediaNews and Hearst surrendered on almost all the sealed documents. They fought only to keep some parts of five exhibits and one brief sealed, which comprised 19 separate excerpts (of which six were duplicates, leaving only 13 distinct items)."

Redmond said the reporting on this episode illustrates the dangers of media consolidation. "[T]hink about what happened here: The Times and the Merc, both owned by Dean Singleton’s MediaNews Group, run the exact same inaccurate AP story on a major media case involving their parent companies. The Chron, which is supposedly their competitor, runs its own inaccurate story. None of these people (representing the free press of Northern California) are acting like competitors, and none of them give any support or credit to a major effort at opening up the federal courts."

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