- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 9, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Owners of Salt Lake City’s two daily newspapers argued in court documents this week that a lawsuit challenging their joint operating agreement should be thrown out.

In documents filed Monday, corporate owners for The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News dismissed allegations that the recently revised agreement violates federal anti-trust laws or threatens the Tribune’s independence.

The newspapers’ joint operating agreement is exempt from federal anti-trust laws, attorneys for the Deseret News Publishing Company and the Tribune’s owner, Kearns-Tribune, argued.

They also said the group of former Tribune reporters and current readers has no legal standing to challenge the agreement.

The lawsuit “is an assault on the right of a business owner to decide what makes the most sense for its business” and the group can’t show how they are harmed by the deal, they said.

The U.S. Justice Department and Utah Attorney General’s Office are both reviewing the changes made last October to the six-decade-old agreement. Newspaper executives have said they are cooperating with officials, though the investigation and lawsuit are delaying talks with potential Tribune buyers.

The group bringing the lawsuit, Utah Newspaper Project, has argued that the revised agreement gives too much control to the Deseret News, which is owned by a for-profit arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Under the new terms, the Deseret News purchased the Tribune’s share of a printing plant and gets 70 percent of the profits from the newspapers’ joint print advertising and circulation businesses. The old profit split was 58 percent for the Tribune and 42 percent for the Deseret News.

The group said the agreement gives the Tribune too little revenue to publish its print edition long term and also jeopardizes its website, which relies on print revenue.

Attorneys for the newspaper said that’s “conjecture” and is “based only on speculation, rumor and innuendo.”

Instead, they said the joint-operating agreement “has allowed the community to enjoy the luxury of having two daily newspapers long after most cities of similar size were reduced to one.”

In a statement Wednesday, Utah Newspaper Project said the filing was not surprising and the group is confident the lawsuit won’t be dismissed.

They said the group does have legal standing to sue and the joint-operating agreement “so damages Utah’s dominant newspaper” that it is not exempt from anti-trust laws.

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