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Merger watchdogs invite views on MEN sale

Merger watchdogs are to invite views on whether Trinity Mirror’s £44m purchase of the Manchester Evening News and other titles should face a competition inquiry.

In a notice published to the Stock Exchange today, the Office of Fair Trading is asking for representations within the next fortnight on whether the deal would create a “relevant merger situation.”

The move could result in last week’s sale of GMG Regional Media to Trinity being referred to the Competition Commission who would then carry out a full-scale inquiry.

The National Union of Journalists has already made clear it will be raising plurality concerns over the deal.

Today’s notice was headed: “Anticipated acquisition by Trinity Mirror plc of the regional newspaper titles of Guardian Media Group plc.”

It read: “The Office of Fair Trading is considering whether arrangements are in progress or in contemplation which, if carried into effect, will result in the creation of a relevant merger situation under the merger provisions of the Enterprise Act 2002.

“Should it be found to be a relevant merger situation, the OFT will further consider whether the creation of that situation may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition within any market or markets in the United Kingdom for goods or services that warrants reference to the Competition Commission for investigation and report.”

It asks for written representations about any competition or public interest issues to be sent to them by 3 March. The purchase is due to be completed by 28 March.

The NUJ’s deputy general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said last week: “The move by Trinity Mirror has implications for the future ownership of local media across the UK, as major publishers weigh their chances of swallowing up what remains of independent publishing in Britain.

“The concerns for diversity of information and media in the North West are an immediate issue which we will be raising with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

“Trinity Mirror already publishes the Liverpool Post and Echo titles, in addition to a substantial stable of weekly papers across Cheshire and Merseyside. Now it will also control the prestigious Manchester Evening News, which has a series of titles in the region.

“This all raises issues of editorial independence which should be of concern to government and community leaders as well as the media industry.”