Competition inquiry into Herald sale begins

The Competition Commission panel looking at the proposed transfer of SMG newspaper titles to US company Gannett has begun a series of meetings in Scotland to determine whether the deal is anti-competitive.

The sale of The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times is the first big newspaper transaction in Scotland since devolution and the panel’s investigations will be wide-ranging, according to its statement on the issues.

It could be a possible forerunner to a much more rigorous approach by the commission to newspaper take-overs.

Aside from the normal parameters of its inquiries, the panel will look at any effects of the merger when only one paid-for Scottish daily newspaper (The Courier, Dundee, owned by DC Thomson) would be in the hands of a Scottish company based in Scotland.

The panel will also look at whether Gannett’s takeover, through its British division, Newsquest Media, could affect:

the role of managers and editors on the balance of editorial content and advertising;
numbers of editorial staff;
decisions on the type and range of local news stories and on the editorial stance on pursuing local campaigns or political issues.

It will also consider the effect on the role and contractual positions of editors Mark Douglas Home, Andrew Jaspan and Charles McGhee, their editorial freedom and hiring and firing. The panel wants to know Gannett’s plans for developing the titles, their financial prospects and organisational structure.

As many as 15 of the commission’s members, including the five-strong panel chaired by Professor Paul Geroski of the London Business School, spent time in Glasgow last week hearing presentations from SMG staff and seeing their headquarters.

Interested parties which included the Newspaper Society, Northcliffe Newspapers, the Chartered Institute of Journalists and Stirling University media research unit also gave evidence.

The commission’s members have already visited the Northern Echo, the flagship morning paper in Darlington published by Newsquest.

They will be returning to Scotland for two or three meetings in February before the deadline for their report on 10 March.

One of the panel members is Eve Pollard, former editor of the Sunday Mirror and Sunday Express.

By Jean Morgan

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