WASHINGTON – The Maryland Attorney General’s Office is reviewing complaints that a Washington Post Co. subsidiary’s purchase of 10 Southern Maryland newspapers may violate antitrust laws.
“We’ll take a look at it,” said Ellen Cooper, who heads the antitrust division in the attorney general’s office. “Whether we will do anything about it, that’s a different question.”
Cooper said her office often reviews mergers, especially when they are completely within the state, since the federal Justice Department might not be as interested in such a local case.
The Gazette Newspaper Inc.’s purchase of 10 newspapers from Chesapeake Publishing sparked antitrust concerns from three publishers who fear the move would let the Gazette and its parent company — The Washington Post — control advertising in the market and drive competitors out of business.
With the purchase, announced in early February, Gazette Newspapers have about 45 community newspapers in Maryland, stretching from Frederick County, through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and now into Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.
In response to the deal, a federal lawsuit was filed last month against the Post Co. and the Gazette by the St. Mary’s Today newspaper and Berlyn Inc., which publishes the Montgomery and Prince George’s Sentinels.
Post spokesman Guy Knight has said the suit is without merit because no legitimate antitrust concerns are at issue.
In a front-page letter this week in the Maryland Independent — one of the Charles County papers in the deal — Gazette President Chuck Lyons assured readers that “the Gazette and now this newspaper operate independently from The Washington Post.”
“Our editorial voice is our own; our business practices are completely separate from the Post,” Lyons said in the letter.
Cooper said staffers in the attorney general’s office have talked with attorneys involved with the lawsuit and have asked them to keep her office posted on developments.
St. Mary’s Today publisher Ken Rossignol also e-mailed an antitrust complaint to the Justice Department, and The Washington Times asked Justice to look into possible antitrust violations in the deal.
Justice Department officials could not be reached Friday to comment on the status of those requests.
Besides the Maryland Independent, papers included in the Gazette deal are the Enterprise in St. Mary’s County, the Calvert County Recorder, the Enquirer- Gazette in Prince George’s County, the St. Charles Independent, the La Plata Independent, the Southern Maryland Connector and the South County Current.
The deal also includes two publications serving military bases in the region, Flightline and Defense Contractor, and a commercial printing plant in Waldorf.