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DOJ to review all media mergers

Under a new agreement between the Department of Justice's Antitrust
Division and the Federal Trade Commission, the DOJ will review all entertainment
and media mergers, Assistant Attorney General Charles James and FTC chairman
Timothy Muris said Tuesday.

In the past, the two agencies fought over who would review which mergers,
causing extensive delays in the process.

In fact, deciding who would review the America Online Inc.-Time Warner Inc. merger was so
contentious that the FTC had to agree not to claim any new expertise as a result
of completing that review, Muris said.

The DOJ and the FTC went ahead and closed the agreement even though Senate Commerce
Committee chairman Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) had not yet signed off on it.

'I believe this is in violation of
appropriations law, which states that we be consulted,' said Hollings, who also chairs the
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in charge of both the DOJ's and the FTC's budgets.

'We were in the middle of discussions on how to proceed, and they just moved
forward on their own. It's a tricky way to forego consultation. We have our
tricks, too.'

Consumer groups also don't like the change, saying it will be easier to get
mergers through the DOJ, which has no politically appointed panel heading up the

'Given the Bush administration's apparent support for
massive media deregulation, one can only surmise that today's announcement sends
a strong signal to big special interests that they will get easy treatment,'
said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

'Unfortunately, key issues involving free speech, journalism, media
competition and the fate of a non-gatekeeper-controlled Internet are now likely
to get short shrift.'