Nadine Dorries has said she may be involved in Newsquest’s acquisition of fellow publisher Archant.
A written ministerial statement issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) yesterday (April 26) said the Culture Secretary had written to both companies advising them that she was “willing to” issue an intervention notice.
“This relates to my concerns that there may be public interest considerations – as set out in section 58 of the Companies Act 2002 – which are relevant to Newsquest’s recent acquisition of Archant Media. Media and that these concerns warrant further investigation,” she said. .
DCMS’ letter to the two companies stated: “In East Anglia (where the majority of Archant’s titles are based), DCMS believes the merger will give Newsquest a majority share of the local newspaper market.
“The merger will see East Anglia’s two largest local newspaper groups merge. While news will still be available to consumers from other local and national providers (i.e. radio, television and online), as the letter shared by Newsquest with the CMA points out, the majority local newspapers will be owned by a single owner.
“Such a concentration of ownership has the potential to impact the plurality of views available in local East Anglia newspapers. This risk may be exacerbated by any potential restructuring of Archant’s titles, a possibility which has been the subject of speculation in the press.
The ministerial statement adds: “It is important to note that I have not made a final decision on the intervention at this stage. In accordance with statutory guidelines on media mergers, the letter “of intent to” invites the parties to make additional representations in writing and gives them until April 29 to respond.
“I will then make my final decision, which must be made on a quasi-judicial basis, on whether to issue a notice of intervention.
“If I decide to publish a notice of intervention, the next step would be for Ofcom to assess and report to me on the public interest concerns and for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to assess and report to me report on whether a relevant merger situation has been created and any impact this may have on competition.
“Following these reports I will decide whether or not to refer the matter for further investigation by the CMA under section 45 of the Companies Act 2002.”
Newsquest completed the acquisition of Archant from private investment firm Rcapital – which bought it in September 2020 – last month.
At the time, Newsquest CEO Henry Faure Walker said, “We really look forward to working with the team at Archant who have done a phenomenal job of rebuilding the business after taking office a year ago. 18 months.
“Archant’s strategy of building digital marketing and digital subscription solutions is closely aligned with ours; and the added scale brought by our combination will greatly help Archant’s local news and Life brands build a stronger future.
Archant has a portfolio of local news brands, primarily in East Anglia, and also publishes a portfolio of regional County Life magazines. Its new brands include the Eastern Daily Press (EDP)the East Anglia Daily Times, Norwich Evening Newsand Ipswich Star.
The company was forced to close its main print site in Norwich in 2019 due to falling advertising revenue and print readership.