Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has intervened in Trinity Mirror’s takeover of Express Newspapers, instructing Ofcom to investigate whether the deal will give sufficient media plurality and free expression of opinion.
Hancock said on 23 April he was “minded to” intervene in the £127m deal by issuing a Public Interest Intervention Notice on the basis of two public interest considerations.
The deal will see Northern & Shell’s publishing assets, including the Daily Express, Daily Star, Sunday Express, Daily Star Sunday, Sunday People and three celebrity magazines, sold to Trinity Mirror, which would rebrand as Reach.
After receiving written representations from both parties, Hancock has now said in a written statement that he has decided to issue the intervention notice on both public interest grounds.
He said: “The first public interest ground is the need for free expression of opinion, and concerns the potential impact the transfer of newspapers would have on editorial decision making.
“The second public interest ground is the need for a sufficient plurality of views in newspapers, to the extent that it is reasonable or practicable.”
UK media regulator Ofcom will now investigate, and report to Hancock on the “media public interest considerations” by 31 May.
The Culture Secretary has also asked the Competition and Markets Authority, which is already investigating the deal, to report with its conclusions on “jurisdiction and any competition issues” by the same deadline.
“I will then consider whether or not to refer the merger for a more detailed investigation, or whether to accept undertakings-in-lieu of such a reference,” Hancock said.
At the time, Trinity Mirror said its board “continues to believe that there will be no reduction in media plurality as a result of the acquisition, as each newspaper brand will continue with its current editorial positioning”.
Trinity Mirror was already the UK’s largest regional publisher and, following the buyout of Northern & Shell’s publishing assets, now owns three daily national newspaper titles and four Sunday titles.
It already owns and publishes the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.
By comparison, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK owns two daily titles and two Sunday titles in the Sun, Times, Sun on Sunday, and Sunday Times.
Picture: Reuters/Peter Nicholls