Former Press Complaints Commission director Lord Black has redoubled his attack on the decision to block the KM Group’s bid to buy a series of rival newspapers in Kent.
The family-owned company pulled out of a deal to buy seven Northcliffe-owned titles last month after the Office of Fair Trading decided to refer it to a full Competition Commission inquiry.
Lord Black had already described the decision as “deeply troubling” in a Lords debate last week, and yesterday he returned to the fray.
Hitting at what he called a “dinosaur decision,” he accused the OFT of ignoring advice from media regulator Ofcom who had warned that newspapers could close unless the deal went through.
“The OFT is preventing the changes in the local newspaper industry which will allow it to survive, undermining local democracy in the process,” he told peers in a debate on the creative industries.
“A ruling from the competition authorities meant the sale had to be abandoned. And, my Lords, seven of those eight titles have now closed.”
Lord Black called for urgent action “to show we understand the importance of our local press in the creative economy and in local democracy and set publishers free to renew their businesses for a new age.”
The KM Group withdrew its bid to buy the seven Kent Regional News and Media titles after the OFT referral, saying it could not afford to take on the additional costs of the review.
Titles which had been affected by the proposed acquisition included the Medway News, East Kent Gazette, Herne Bay and Whitstable Times, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Thanet Times, Folkestone Herald and Dover Express.
Earlier this week it emerged that Ofcom had warned the OFT not to block the merger, saying it might put both KMG and KRNM out of business.
It stated: “If advertising revenues, circulation figures and profits continue to fall at their current rates, then absent the merger, KMG and KRNM may in the future be forced to close or merge titles or perhaps even cease operating altogether, thereby resulting in a worse outcome for consumers.”