Saying federal courts have finally correctly interpreted the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, three senators have withdrawn a bill that would have clarified the law.

However, Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said their bill will be reintroduced if courts again try to prevent newspapers that share advertising, circulation and printing from distributing ads to all homes in their markets - to subscribers and non-subscribers alike.The Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune have shared such services since 1952, but maintain competitive news and editorial staffs. Currently, 44 other newspapers have such arrangements. The 1970 act was passed to protect them after a 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision said they violated anti-trust laws.

The most recent attack on joint-operating agreements, which prompted the senators' bill, came when a suburban newspaper in Arizona sued two jointly operating newspapers in Tucson saying their distribution of ads to non-subscribers violated anti-trust laws and the Newspaper Preservation Act.

The Deseret News and Tribune have offered such "total market coverage" to advertisers since 1981.

A 1984 federal court ruling agreed with the suburban newspaper that such distribution violated the law. The three senators felt that decision was incorrect, and introduced clarifying legislation.

But a federal appeals court later reversed the 1984 decision on procedural grounds. When the suburban newspaper filed another suit, it was dismissed in federal district court.

That led the senators to withdraw their bill. As Inouye said, "The reason for withdrawing this amendment is simple - we no longer believe there is any doubt about the proper interpretation of the Newspaper Preservation Act."

Garn said the most recent ruling shows "newspapers in joint-operating agreements have, for all intents and purposes, engaged in a commercial merger, and may lawfully engage in all commercial activities that are available to one-owner newspapers."

"If, however, there should again be a failure to properly interpret the Act, resulting in an unintended constriction on the commercial operations of joint-operating agreement newspapers, I will join my colleagues in re-introducing corrective legislation," Garn added.