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Freedom Picks Winning Bidder For California Newspapers

Los AngelesPhotograph by Frederic J. Brown — AFP/Getty Images

(Reuters) – Freedom Communications, the bankrupt publisher of two California newspapers, said it would accept a $51.8 million takeover bid from Digital First Media instead of a higher offer from Los Angeles Times owner Tribune Publishing (TPUB).

Freedom filed a brief with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in California on Saturday supporting the sale to Digital. Tribune had offered $56 million. The bankruptcy auction for Freedom’s assets was held on March 16.

The Department of Justice on Thursday filed a lawsuit aimed at blocking Tribune from acquiring papers in nearby Orange and Riverside Counties, saying the acquisition would lessen competition.

Officials at Tribune declined to comment. Freedom officials were not immediately available.

If Tribune acquired Freedom, the company would control 98% of newspaper sales in Orange County and 81% of English-speaking newspaper sales in Riverside, the Justice Department said.

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Freedom publishes the Orange County Register of Santa Ana and the Press-Enterprise of Riverside. Digital has several newspapers and news websites across the United States, according to its website.

“If this acquisition is allowed to proceed, newspaper competition will be eliminated and readers and advertisers in Orange and Riverside Counties will suffer,” said Bill Baer, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division, in a statement.