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Dorries ‘minded to’ intervene on Newsquest and Archant merger

Nadine DorriesNadine Dorries says she is “minded to” intervene in Newsquest’s takeover of fellow regional publisher Archant over competition fears.

The Culture Secretary has written to both companies stating her concerns about the merger and claiming there “may be public interest considerations” that “warrant further investigation”.

In a written ministerial statement published today, Ms Dorries cited section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002 which requires there to be “a sufficient plurality of views in newspapers in each market for newspapers” within the United Kingdom.

There is only a small amount of geographical overlap between the respective patches of the two publishers, which agreed a deal to create the UK’s second largest regional publishing group last month.

The planned intervention by Ms Dorries comes days after HTFP revealed a restructure which will see five senior Archant directors leave the business and the group’s regional units being integrated into Newsquest’s.

Ms Dorries, pictured, wrote in her statement: “The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has today written to Newsquest Media Group and Archant Community Media, to inform them that I am ‘minded to’ issue an Intervention Notice.

“This relates to concerns I have that there may be public interest considerations – as set out in section 58 of Enterprise Act 2002 – that are relevant to the recent acquisition of Archant Media by Newsquest Media and that these concerns warrant further investigation.”

She added: “It is important to note that I have not taken a final decision on intervention at this stage.

“In line with the statutory guidance on media mergers, the ‘minded to’ letter invites further representations in writing from the parties and gives them until 29 April to respond.

“I will then make my final decision, which needs to be made on a quasi-judicial basis, on whether to issue an Intervention Notice.

“If I decide to issue an Intervention Notice, the next stage would be for Ofcom to assess and report to me on the public interest concerns and for the Competition and Markets Authority to assess and report to me on whether a relevant merger situation has been created and any impact this may have on competition.”

The biggest areas of overlap between the two groups are in North Essex, where Archant’s East Anglian Daily Times is in competition with a number of Newsquest titles, and North and East London where both companies have well-established weeklies.

Both companies own titles in Somerset, but their print circulation areas there do not technically overlap, with Archant’s North Somerset Times based mainly around Nailsea and Portishead while Newsquest’s Somerset County Gazette mainly covers Taunton.

Until recently both companies had print titles circulating in the Hertfordshire towns of St Albans and Harpenden – Archant’s Herts Advertiser and Newsquest’s St Albans and Harpenden Review – but the latter has been online-only since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

HTFP has approached Archant and Newsquest for a comment.