Anyone up for nationalising Johnston Press?

Just got used to the idea of HM Government owning banks?

What about the prospect of banks owning newspaper publishers?

Or, more properly: the prospect of HM Government owning banks that in turn own newspaper publishers?

That’s what Lorna Tilbian’s suggestion of a debt-for-equity swap at Johnston Press might entail.

A swap would mean that JP’s bankers give up hope of repayment on the company’s £465m debt pile. Instead, they would take control of the company.

Bankers dislike doing this. But sometimes, it’s better than the alternative of pushing a company into administration.

A debt-for-equity swap would almost certainly wipe out existing shareholders, including the Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan Tatparanandam, who punted £86m into JP in June at 135p a share.

Those shareholders wouldn’t be happy. They certainly would protest -– loudly.

Which makes the identity of JP’s bankers all the more intriguing.

Yes, folks –- among others, we appear to be looking at Royal Bank of Scotland, soon to be 60%-owned by HM Government.

It’s unclear how much RBS has lent to Johnston Press over the years. But it was the lead institution on a £680m loan that part-financed the purchase of Regional Independent Newspapers in 2002.

And RBS was listed as a ‘principal’banker to the company in its 2007 annual report.

These ties between RBS and Johnston Press raise a provocative little question: how exactly does Alastair Darling view the future of the UK newspaper industry?

If things get really weird, his views may end up counting for a lot.

UPDATE: So might those of Peter Mandelson, which would be ironic given the history involved. But note the interventionist posturing coming out of Mandy’s ministry at the moment.

At this rate, the minister for business is going to be a very busy boy indeed. . .

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