Lord Rothermere: Further DMGT sell-offs are unlikely

Lord Rothermere has said it is unlikely that the Daily Mail and General Trust will sell any more titles, following the disposal of the London Evening Standard to a Russian billionaire.

In a rare interview with the Sunday Times, the DMGT chairman also ruled out buying The Independent and the Independent on Sunday, which are due to move into Associated Newspapers‘ headquarters in west London soon.

Rothermere – who became chair of DMGT after the death of the third Viscount Rothermere in 1998 – said selling the Standard to Alexander Lebedev had been as difficult as coping with the death of his parents.

“I am very emotionally attached to the Standard,” Rothermere told the paper.

“Along with the death of my parents, [selling] it has been one of the hardest things to live through in my life.”

In 2005, DMGT attempted to dispose of its regional newspaper arm, Northcliffe. But the sale was aborted in February 2006 after the offers failed to reach expectations.

Rothermere told the Sunday Times yesterday that further consolidation in the newspaper industry looked unlikely in the current climate.

“Newspapers are out of fashion, but I believe their epitaph has been written way too early,” he said.

“It is our duty to look at any offer on all of our businesses, but I can’t see a circumstance where we would sell another newspaper unless there was a strategic imperative.”

He added: “Right now, it is hard to see how the industry has got the capacity to consolidate, with both the regulatory framework and in terms of issues revolving round some of the other players,” he said.

“No one with a final salary [pension] scheme is going to find the circumstances right.”

The sale of a 75.1 per cent stake in the Standard to Lebedev, for a nominal sum, is due to be completed later this month. Lebedev has appointed former Tatler editor Geordie Greig to edit the title.

In a trading update last week, DMGT pledged its commitment to free evening paper London Lite, which reported a 21 per cent year-on-year rise in fourth-quarter advertising revenues.

But the publisher warned of further job cuts, closures or changes to newspaper frequencies at Northcliffe, where January advertising revenues were down about 40 per cent on the same period last year.

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