Jacqueline Wattles photo
Local labor activists and members of the Working Families Party lent their voices to a protest against the potential acquisition of the Tribune Co. by billionaires Charles and David Koch of Kansas.

Protesters marched from the Legislative Office Building to the Hartford Courant building on Broad Street Wednesday afternoon as part of a nationwide protest in a dozen cities with Tribune news outlets.

Emerging from bankruptcy, Tribune Co., which owns the Hartford Courant, is looking for a buyer or buyers. As soon as the media reported that the Koch brothers were interested in the company, media reform groups pounced.

Petitions associated with the movement have garnered 500,000 signatures so far, including a petition with more than 26,000 signatures on FreePress.net.

Paul Filson, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union, said he believes the Koch brothers will bring an unacceptable bias to news media, but recognizes that because the deal would take place between two multi-billion dollar corporations, preventing a deal would not be easy.

“We believe the Koch brothers are bias in their ideology. They fund the Tea Party,” Filson said. “We believe if there’s some public outcry, that the folks who have invested in the Tribune company and those who will in the future, will feel like folks won’t read the newspapers or listen to the media anymore.”

Josh Stearns of Free Press, a media advocacy group, said he thought media organizations should be locally owned in order to keep corporate biases out of the news.

“We don’t want absentee media ownership, we want people rooted in local communities,” Stearns said. “We’re really concerned with the journalistic standards and issues that arise when someone like the Kochs, who have shown again and again that they’re willing to attack journalists that they disagree with, take over and what that will mean for journalism.”

Larry Deutsch, a Hartford City Council member, said he plans to introduce a resolution voicing opposition to the deal.

“The resolution points out that if the Koch brothers take [the Courant], over they’ll have an outside, extreme partisan and sensational corporate agenda, instead of being locally based,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch added that even though ownership of the Courant by the Chicago-based Tribune Co. isn’t ideal, it’s still largely independent.

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Koch Industries hosts a website KochFacts.com where it posts responses and critiques of news media, and on May 13, the company dubbed the potential purchase of the Tribune Co. a “rumor.”

“As an entrepreneurial company with 60,000 employees around the world, we are constantly exploring profitable opportunities in many industries and sectors. So, it is natural that our name would come up in connection with this rumor,” the statement reads. “It is our long-standing policy not to comment on deals or rumors of deals we may or may not be exploring.”

But the New York Times reported that the acquiring media outlets may be a part of a 10-year strategy the Koch brothers laid out at a conference in Aspen, Colo. in 2010 to promote libertarianism, small government, and low taxes.