At the beginning of February, Trinity Mirror agreed a deal worth £126.7m to acquire the publishing assets of Northern & Shell. Assets included the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and OK! among other titles. As reported by the Guardian, culture secretary Matt Hancock has now said he is minded to issue a public interest intervention notice for an in-depth inquiry.
The announcement is another blow to Trinity Mirror, after the Competition and Markets Authority opened an initial investigation into the deal and forced the publisher to leave Express Newspapers as a standalone business until that investigation is concluded.
Concern has been raised by Hancock, who 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.’
Trinity Mirror’s papers are generally left-wing, whereas Northern & Shell’s papers have been traditionally right wing, and Simon Fox, chief executive of Trinity Mirror, claimed the papers would remain independent. Shortly afterwards, Trinity Mirror appointed Gary Jones, editor of the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, as editor-in-chief of the Daily Express, among other high-profile changes.
Hancock continued: ‘The second ground is the need for a sufficient plurality of views in newspapers, to the extent that it is reasonable or practicable. The merged entity would own the largest share of national titles within the UK newspaper market, owning nine out of 20 national newspaper titles.’
While it does own a large number of the UK’s national newspapers, Trinity Mirror’s readership numbers are much smaller as a proportion. According to the latest ABCs, it falls far behind News UK and DMG’s papers by over a million copies a day, and even its combined digital output is dwarfed by the Mail’s.
Hancock and the CMA will decide whether a full investigation is need by 7 June – and if they do, they have the powers to amend or even block the deal. Any media plurality investigation will be conducted by Ofcom.
Simon Fox said: ‘This is a part of the process that we were aware was possible following our acquisition of the Northern & Shell publishing assets. We continue to believe there are no plurality or competition issues.’