Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan has formally intervened in Mail and Metro owner Daily Mail and General Trust’s £49.6m purchase of the i paper from JPI Media.
Morgan (pictured) issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice on Wednesday after she decided there should an investigation into whether the deal adversely affects the plurality of views in the UK newspaper market.
The Competition and Markets Authority must now report back to her on jurisdictional and competition matters, and Ofcom must report on the public interest plurality concerns, by 13 March.
Morgan will then decide whether to refer the case for a more detailed investigation by the competition watchdog under Section 45 of the Enterprise Act 2002.
The Culture Secretary told DMGT she was “minded to” intervene in the deal earlier this month and offered both publishers the chance to make further representations before she made up her mind.
DMGT told the Government it planned to put editorial protections in place to keep the i distinct from its other titles, sayings its editors “are able to make independent editorial judgments without interference from the proprietor”.
It added that there is a “commercial incentive” for maintaining the i’s current editorial position. The publisher previously said that the audiences of the Mail and the i have different demographics.
But in a written statement to Parliament, Morgan said: “I continue to believe that it may be the case that the public interest consideration of sufficient plurality of viewpoints in newspapers is relevant to this merger. I thus consider it appropriate to intervene in this matter.”
DMGT also raised concerns that waiting for an Ofcom report to be produced would “impede” it “in making financial investments at the i”.
In a letter to the publisher, Morgan said: “The commercial impact of an intervention is not something that can be taken into account under the media merger regime.
“The Secretary of State also does not believe that the time taken by Ofcom to look into plurality concerns will cause an unreasonable delay in this regard, noting that the CMA will still need to report on UK competition issues and that the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is still looking at DMGT’s notification.”
DMGT announced its acquisition of the i in November last year, saying it wanted to buy the title because of its “strong” performance and “established reputation for quality journalism”.
DMGT chief executive Paul Zwillenberg said there were plans for eventual “synergies” in back office operations, printing, production, distribution and revenues such as by selling advertising that reaches a combined larger audience, as it already does with the Mail and Metro.
Morgan told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast this week she plans to stand down as Culture Secretary at Boris Johnson’s next cabinet reshuffle, which is expected before the February Parliamentary recess, so she is likely to be out of post before the next stage of the investigation.
Picture: Reuters/Toby Melville