The Newspaper Society has said it is not persuaded by the Government’s arguments that the newspaper merger provisions of the communications bill will be deregulatory.
In a response to the Government, the society claims the vast majority of deals involving UK newspaper companies buying new titles will come under the criteria contained within the communications bill for the exceptional public interest test.
This, the society argues, will give the Trade Secretary discretion to refer a substantial majority of newspaper acquisitions to the Competition Commission under the exceptional public interest provisions.
The society claims this will lead to business uncertainty and have a “chilling” effect on news-paper companies’ acquisition plans.
“This will make it difficult for the regional press to compete against other media and will have the unintended consequences of damaging the strength of local editorial content, by making it harder for the regional and local newspaper industry to compete for the advertising revenues which fund that content,” the society has told the Government.
It also said the industry remained deeply concerned at the proposal that Ofcom would be required to test local opinion on the desirability of a merger, claiming that achieving a balanced and reliable outcome from such surveys is notoriously difficult.
The society has called for the removal of Ofcom’s role in relation to newspaper mergers and restricting the exceptional public interest jurisdiction to daily and Sunday newspaper titles which circulate nationally or in a substantial part of the UK.
By Jon Slattery