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Pelosi Asks Justice To Take Broader View Of Competitive Landscape

Former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's argument that electronic news sources including TV and the Internet should figure into the government's assessment of media market competition has an unusual friend in a high place: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Pelosi met with representatives of the paper last week after hearing that they might have to close down or sell it. She followed that up with a letter to the Justice Department asking it to consider allowing Bay Area news papers more freedom to merge to remain in business.

In the letter, Pelosi tells Attorney General Eric Holder she is sure that in addressing concerns that any proposed mergers or "other arrangements" in San Francisco, it will "take into appropriate count, as relevant, not only the number of daily and weekly newspapers in the Bay Area, but also the other sources of news and advertising outlets available in the electronic and digital age," saying that would reflect "market realities."

Traditionally, Justice has considered newspapers as the relevant market for judging mergers.

News of the letter comes as Hearst announced it was pulling the plug Tuesday on the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer after almost 150 years to move to a Web-only model.

Pelosi said there would be a hearing on the issue of the survival of newspapers in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy.

Martin had suggested that one way to help struggling newspapers was to allow them to merge with TV stations in their markets, a proposal that was met with strong and heated opposition from many top Democrats, who even tried to legislate his loosening of the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban out of existence.

Pelosi said that the result of taking the broader view of competition would be "to allow free market forces to preserve as many news sources, as many viewpoints, and as many jobs as possible."

Wouldn't Pelosi's stand square with Martin's position on loosening newspaper-broadcast ownership rules, which would also allow more media companies the freedom to merge to help save the struggling newspaper industry. John Sturm, who heads the Newspaper Association of America, says that the conclusion logically follows, though he says he believes Pelosi is concentrated on newspaper mergers rather than cross-media combos. "This is really not an FCC play," he says. "I think what she is saying is that antitrust laws should not be a barrier to certain mergers."