Johnston Press says selling UK newspapers 'unlikely'

Johnston Press, the owner of more than 290 British newspapers including the Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman, is unlikely to sell any of them, Press Gazette understands.

The Edinburgh-based group has appointed KPMG to restructure its £465m debt – and reports this weekend suggested titles could be sold to balance the books.

But a senior Johnston Press source told Press Gazette: “Although the regional media industry is facing severe challenges, it is still profitable, and generates a lot of cash.

“I can’t say nothing will be sold. Someone could come in with an extraordinary offer.

“But if I was a gambling man, I couldn’t see an offer that would be suitably attractive – especially not in the current climate.”

In the first half of 2008, Johnston Press’s profit was down 15.6 per cent, year on year – but was still £81.6m.

Johnston’s debt facility – spread between Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays and National Australia Bank – expires in September 2010, and KPMG will negotiate refinancing.

A Johnston Press spokesman said: “KPMG were recently appointed to assist in preparatory work ahead of reviewing our banking facilities, which management will be undertaking later this year.”

Rumours of British titles being sold followed reports of Johnston Press asking Raglan Capital, Irish corporate finance experts, to find buyers for its Irish titles.

In fact, Raglan approached Johnston Press, who agreed to explore the possibility of sales.

“Raglan approached us to see whether value could be realised through a sale of Irish titles,” the spokesman said.

In 2008, Johnston Press saw advertising revenue fall 15.5 per cent, and it cut 900 jobs – 12 per cent of its workforce.

Recent cost-cutting proposals have included widespread redundancies, and centralising sub-editing in its Midlands, Northern Ireland, and North West divisions.

In Northern Ireland, the Derry Journal’s National Union of Journalists chapel responded to cuts by saying: “The Derry Journal survived the famine, but we fear it may not survive Johnston Press.”

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