AP NEWS

Las Vegas newspapers battling in courts over operations pact

September 26, 2019 GMT

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas’ newspaper battle is heating up after the Las Vegas Sun filed a new federal lawsuit against the Las Vegas Review-Journal and its owner, the family of billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

A civil complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas alleges unfair trade practices. The federal antitrust lawsuit adds to a breach-of-contract complaint filed in state court more than a year ago.

Review-Journal attorney Benjamin Lipman on Wednesday dismissed the contentions as “baseless” and denied that the Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in Nevada, wants to kill its competition.

The Sun, headed by Brian Greenspun, an heir to newspaper founder Hank Greenspun, accuses the Review-Journal of trying to starve it of funds and violating a 30-year-old joint operating agreement that has the Sun printed and delivered as a section within the morning Review-Journal.

“Unable to financially blot out the Sun, and tired of publishing his only rival, Adelson and the Review-Journal have recently filed a baseless and unlawful claim in Nevada state court seeking to terminate the JOA,” the Sun complaint said. “Terminating the JOA would effectively kill the Sun.”

The Sun complaint in state court was filed in April 2018. Arbitration failed to resolve the courtroom battle and the Review-Journal on Aug. 30 published a front-page editorial titled, “Why we want to stop printing the Sun.”

It called the joint operating agreement a “relic,” and derided Sun news offerings as “a stale combination of dated wire service stories” packaged with old staff reports and photos. It argued that the Sun doesn’t meet a “contractual obligation to produce a high-quality metropolitan print newspaper.”

Adelson, 86, is the founder, chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian and Palazzo resorts on the Las Vegas Strip and casino-hotels in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau. Adelson also is a top donor to Republican party candidates.

The Sun characterizes itself as “a left-leaning editorial voice” and the Review-Journal as a “right-leaning newspaper that mirrors the conservative views” of Adelson. The Sun notes the Review-Journal was one of the few newspapers to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016.

The federal lawsuit alleges the Review-Journal doesn’t allow the Sun to audit financial records and says the Sun has not received a profit payment based on the joint operating agreement since 2017.

Newspaper joint operating agreements grew from the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970. Congress exempts newspapers from some antitrust laws to allow them to combine business functions while remaining editorially independent.

The Sun wants a federal judge to order the Review-Journal to stop “abusive, unlawful and anticompetitive practices” and divest itself from the newspaper, and to order the creation of an independent agency or trustee to oversee the non-editorial business of the joint operation.

The Sun and Review-Journal agreement was renegotiated in 2005 and is scheduled to remain in effect until 2040.