Ofcom may give Telegraph staff a say in any takeover

Telegraph: bidding process wide open

Journalists at the Telegraph Group could have a key role in the outcome of any bid for their titles.

The NUJ, which has a 300-strong chapel at the Telegraph, is expected to be consulted by media regulator Ofcom over any takeover.

And sources at the paper say the views of the journalists are already being gauged by prospective bidders.

The success of a legal challenge against Conrad Black last Friday threw the bidding process for the Telegraph Group and parent company Hollinger International wide open.

It scuppered Black’s bid to sell his stake in Hollinger International privately to the Barclay brothers and has led to the resumption of investment bank Lazard’s auction of the company.

Competing bidders now include: Daily Mail and General Trust, Richard Desmond and Gannett (the US parent company of Newsquest).

Telegraph Group NUJ Father of Chapel Charlie Methven said: “I have heard from certain people already about what their plans would be.

“The NUJ chapel currently has 260 to 270 members and we are expecting that to go up to 300 in the next week. I would expect Ofcom to take some notice over what their views are.

“In Ofcom’s terms of reference the quality and independence of the product are most important and journalists at the paper are better placed than anyone to give an unbiased view on that.

“We don’t want journalism influenced from the outside and we want a paper sufficiently funded and invested in so we can compete with other newspapers.”

Lazard is now understood to be seeking bids to sell Hollinger International as a whole to reduce tax liability. The group includes the Chicago Sun-Times and The Jerusalem Post and is likely to attract bids in excess of £1bn.

An Ofcom spokesman said: “If asked by the Secretary of State to look at any public interest dimension to an acquisition, we would look at such issues as the need for accurate presentation of news in newspapers, the need for free expression of opinion and the need for sufficient plurality of views expressed in newspapers as a whole.”

NUJ newspapers organiser Barry Fitzpatrick said: “The list of prospective buyers is certainly not a beauty contest and we would have a point of view about any of them.

“There is a lot of concern about Richard Desmond and suspicion that if he did acquire it there would be interference in editorial, which would not be acceptable.

“With Associated Newspapers there is concern about how it would fit in with its already large media ownership – not only in the national press but in the regionals as well. It is also very anti-union and that is something we would be concerned about.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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