Media mergers to DOJ

Under a new agreement between the Justice Department's Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission, DoJ will review all entertainment and media mergers, Assistant Attorney General Charles James and FTC Chairman Timothy Muris agreed last week.

In the past, the two agencies fought over which would review what, causing extensive delays in the process. In fact, deciding who would review the AOL Time Warner 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.

DoJ and FTC closed the deal even though Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) hasn't signed off on it. James and Muris delayed the agreement in January after Hollings complained of not being consulted.

"I believe this is in violation of appropriations law, which states that we be consulted," Hollings said last week. He chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee in charge of DoJ and FTC 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 forgo consultation. We have our tricks, too."

DoJ and FTC have divvied up mergers since 1948, James said, and Congress has never intervened.

Consumer groups don't like the change. Jeff Chester, executive director, Center for Digital Democracy, says it'll be easier to get mergers through DoJ, which isn't headed by a politically appointed panel.

James and Muris said Hollings' was the sole Congressional complaint on the changes. Sens. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) and Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Senate Antitrust Subcommittee chairman and ranking member, respectively, last week sent a letter in support.