Independent blocked from selling titles

INDEPENDENT News and Media has been forbidden by the British Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) from selling eight of its regional newspaper titles in the London area to US publishers Gannett.

Yesterday the DTI published the Competition Commission's report on the proposed transfer to Newsquest (London) Ltd a subsidiary of US newspaper giant Gannet of 23 newspaper titles owned by Independent News and Media UK Limited, which are distributed in the Greater London area.

Competition Minister Gerry Sutcliffe has refused to consent to the transfer of the eight titles of INM's Kentish Times division and he has stalled the sale of two other titles.

The sale of the remaining 13 titles to Newsquest, the second biggest regional newspaper publisher in Britain, is to be completed in the coming weeks. The block on the sale of 10 of the 23 titles will come as a major set back to Irish Independent owner's IN&M.

However, IN&M UK chief executive Ivan Fallon said the telephone was hopping all day with expressions of interest in the titles.

"At the end of the day we will sell the lot off for close to the original price of £80m." he forecast.

The DTI accepted the advice of the Competition Commission that: "The transfer of 10 titles may be expected to reduce competition and result in higher advertising rates and/or reduced discounts to some or all advertisers in the areas affected as well as resulting in a reduction in the quality of service for some or all advertisers."

Competition Minister Gerry Sutcliffe, commenting on the block of the sale of eight titles, said: "Like the commission, I do not believe that competition from other media is sufficient to offset any loss of competition between existing publishers.

"The commission also finds that any benefits from those transactions would not be sufficient to offset the adverse effects on competition. In the commission's view, there are no conditions which could be attached to the transfers in order to prevent them from operating against the public interest. I accept these findings."

Mr Fallon said they would begin immediate talks with Newsquest to resolve the commission view that there was a risk that the Hornsey Journal series and North London Weekly Herald series might cease to be viable if they were separated from the third title in the group.

Meanwhile, Mr Fallon disclosed that the publication of The Independent as a tabloid alternative alongside the broadsheet version in London had pushed sales of the newspaper in the city up by 50%.

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