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Transfer of eight titles refused: 13 given go-ahead

The sale of 13 London weekly newspapers to Newsquest has been approved by the Competition Commission.

But eight other Independent News & Media titles were refused permission to sell up because of fears over a loss of competition in advertising costs.

A decision has yet to be made on two other titles.

Newsquest is now to hold talks with the Department of Trade and Industry and Independent News & Media.

Worries over Newsquest’s ownership of the Bromley and Beckenham Express series, Bromley Times, Bexley & Eltham Express, Bexley Times series, Dartford & Swanley Express, Dartford Times, Gravesend & District Express and Gravesend Reporter being against the public interest resulted in permission for their transfer being refused.

The eight remaining titles will be disposed of separately to other interested parties, according to Independent News & Media.

Chief executive Ivan Fallon said: “We have received a number of approaches separately for our Kent division, and we look forward to concluding all elements of the transaction as soon as possible.”

There were also fears over the viability of the Hornsey Journal series and North London Weekly Herald series if they were separated from the third title in their group – the Islington Gazette, which is on the approved list – so a decision has not yet been made on their future.

The full list of papers cleared for sale to Newsquest comprises:

  • Ilford and Redbridge Weekly Post
  • Romford & Havering Weekly Post
  • East London Advertiser
  • Barking and Dagenham Post series
  • Hackney Gazette and North London Advertiser
  • Stratford and Newham Express
  • Islington Gazette series
  • Wembley Chronicle series
  • Willesden Chronicle series
  • Hammersmith Times
  • Kensington Times
  • Paddington Times
  • Westminster Times.

    The Competition Commission report said: “In these local markets, the transfers would give rise to situations where multiple titles under the same ownership would have very large market shares.

    “We concluded that the loss of competition from the ten transfers identified… may be expected to result in higher advertising rates and/or reduced discounts to some or all advertisers in the areas affected, and in a reduction in the quality of service for some or all advertisers.

    “We do not believe that in such circumstances competition from other newspapers or other media, or potential competition from new entrants, is likely to be sufficient to offset the effects of the loss of competition that we expect to result from the transfers.

    “In our view there are no conditions which could be attached to the transfers in order to prevent them from operating against the public interest. We believe that the transfer of the eight titles of the Kentish Times division and the assets necessary for their continuation should not be permitted.”

    A statement from Newsquest said: “Newsquest notes the decision of the Secretary of State for Trade andIndustry to permit the transfer of the bulk of the titles owned by Independent News & Media regionals in the London area to Newsquest, but not to permit the transfer of certain other titles.

    “Newsquest will be studying the details of the Competition Commission’s report and discussing the position with the Department of Trade and Industry and Independent News & Media. A further announcement will be made as appropriate.”

    The 250-page Commission report explained how Newsquest planned to retain and develop the separate titles and that there were no cost savings planned that might impact on staffing or quality of the titles.

    It examined the market conditions in the area, and identified which newspapers, both weekly and evening, could be seen to be in competition with Newsquest, as well as looking at other publishing companies.

    Figures were presented which showed that in the INM circulation area as a whole, if the full deal went through, Newsquest’s share of circulation would increase as a result of the transfers from 22 to 57 per cent: from 37 to 72 per cent south of the Thames and from 12 to 47 per cent north of the Thames.

    In some areas in south London and north-west Kent shares of over 50 per cent or even over 75 per cent would result. In more limited areas in north London, there would be market shares of between 50 and 75 per cent.

    Significant increases in concentration were likely to result in almost all areas of south-east London and north-west Kent to which the eight titles of INM’s Kentish Times Times and Express series were circulated.

    The transfers would also increase Newsquest’s share of local newspapers in Greater London from 35 to 49 per cent, and the share of the two largest publishers, Trinity Mirror and Newsquest, from 79 to 93 per cent.

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    ©NEP 2003